Tobacco. Timothy V. Tobacco. For Smokeless tobacco: spit tobacco, chewing tobacco, chew, chaw, dip, and plug. For Cigarettes: smokes, cigs, butts For Hookah: Narghile, argileh, shisha, hubble-bubble, and goza. Common abusers.
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Since 1964 conclusive epidemiological evidence of the deadly effects of tobacco consumption has led to a sharp decline in official support for producers and manufacturers of tobacco, in spite of its indisputably large contribution to the agricultural, fiscal, manufacturing, and exporting sectors of the economy.
By 1617 John Rolfe's experiments with Spanish tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) had provided the English settlement in Virginia with a staple export of high value in proportion to the cost of its transportation across the Atlantic. As a result tobacco served as the chief incentive for the subsequent demographic and economic growth of the colonial Chesapeake. English merchants supplied colonists with manufactured goods and bound labor and took their profits primarily from the return cargoes of tobacco. Before the last quarter of the seventeenth century the bond servants who grew tobacco came primarily from the British Isles, but thereafter the laborers were principally black slaves from the West Indies and Africa. These laborers, settled on small plantations or quarters, swelled the population of the Chesapeake colonies from a few hundred in 1618 to perhaps thirty-five thousand by 1675 and well over half a million by 1776.
The quantity of tobacco shipped to Great Britain rose from twenty thousand pounds in 1617 to over 40 million pounds in 1727, and even as the agricultural economy became diversified after 1700, colonists continued to produce ever larger crops of tobacco. Tobacco inspection systems enacted by Virginia in 1730 and by Maryland in 1747 improved the quality of Chesapeake tobacco exported to Britain and from there to the Continent. The huge crops (averaging 100 million pounds in the early 1770s) and low price of Chesapeake tobacco overwhelmed its European competitors. By 1775, not only England but much of Europe depended on the Chesapeake for tobacco.
I had my first chew just before my 17th birthday. I remember it vividly. About to embark on a 21-day backpacking trip to Wyoming, a friend warned me that my smoking habit might make breathing and hiking difficult at high altitudes. He helpfully suggested that I try spit tobacco and even offered to teach me. Years later he would still boast about teaching a girl to chew.
He initiated me to the pleasures of chewing tobacco one night before we left for the trip. I remember learning to pack down the chew in the tin, snapping my wrist like my friend did, and I remember the sickly, minty smell. I had been a smoker for over three years at that point. Nicotine was not new to me, until my first dip. The buzz I got was stronger than one from any other substance I had tried at that point. My head spun, my heart raced, and an incredible surge swept through my body. Nauseous and dizzy, I had to sit down immediately. So this was chew, I thought. I didn’t get sick, and it didn’t even hurt my mouth. After a few more dips, however, I came to relish the biting sting that was the chew, tearing up my gums.
Instead of stocking up on cigarettes for the journey west, I split a “log” of chew with my friend (a log is essentially a carton of spit tobacco.) By the time I returned home, I was chewing all day and every day. That, to me, was the great advantage of chew. I could do it anywhere, anytime: in theaters, on the bus to school, in my bedroom at home (with no telltale tobacco smoke to alert my mother), even during some classes.
The tough veneer that I carried around in those days was bolstered by my chew use. I felt like a biker, an outlaw, someone with whom not to mess. If I was going to be attractive, it would be on my terms, chew and all. Buying it was never a problem, largely because of the surprised clerks: “What’s a nice girl like you doing with chew?” Their attitude and that of others was exactly why I continued to chew. I was a nice girl, for the most part I managed to stay out of trouble. Chew felt like the equivalent of a tattoo to me. It set me apart. An ardent feminist even then, I reveled in blowing this gender stereotype. Chew was to me what cigarettes were to women of the 19th century. I had come a long way, baby.