The paradigm shift in the smoking culture

If you ever happen to find yourself in New York, you shouldn’t miss visiting the Keen’s steakhouse, one of the oldest steakhouses in New York City. Besides the great food, you’ll witness something very intriguing, but only if you look up. On the restaurant’s ceiling, there are about fifty-thousand smoking pipes. They were introduced by the Dutch when they settled in America, and because their pipes made of clay were too fragile to carry on board of horse saddles, the solution was to just leave them at the travelers’ favorite place – one of them being Keen’s.

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Keen’s steakhouse, New York City

However, the history of the smoking pipe began way earlier. In America, there were various Native American cultures who practiced pipe-smoking of tobacco even before the arrival of Europeans. Tobacco was introduced to Europeans after they had discovered America in the 16th century. Similar practices have later been found in Africa, and Asia, where tobacco was smoked along with opium. Pipe-smoking is nowadays regarded as the oldest way of smoking tobacco and is slowly vanishing.

These mentioned uses of tobacco, along with different herbs all fall into the category of its ceremonial uses – with the intent to get closer to the creator, talk to spirits, or connect with other members of the tribe. These traditions all use naturally grown tobacco mixed with other plant leaves found in the forest and are normally practiced alongside cultural rituals.

Nicotiana tabacum, cultivated tobacco.
Tobacco plant – Nicotiana tabacum

On the other hand, if we return back to the Keen’s steakhouse, the more modern use of tobacco is to a large extent recreational. This means using tobacco even when there are no complimentary rituals which demand its use. Aboriginal people who still use their native practices usually regard recreational use of tobacco as unholy and do not allow it among their people. Furthermore, they only use naturally grown tobacco and believe that the one bought in-store will poison their pipes due to a large number of chemicals.

The store tobacco, which is the one most known today, does contain a lot of chemicals, and many of them have been proven to cause cancer. Smoking has shifted to a more recreational habit – a way to relieve stress, which has already resulted in a number of people suffering from cancer and diseases of the respiratory system. A similar change can be seen in smoking accessories – the pipe, which was a long-term smoking tool, has been replaced by a cigarette, which you throw away after you smoke it. That has resulted in a huge amount of waste, only from cigarette leftovers.

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Cigarette leftovers

I don’t smoke myself and I’m not interested in smoking regarded as a personal habit – however, growing up with advertisements of the tobacco industry such as Lucky Strike, Camel, and of course, Marlboro, I have to write about the effect smoking has had on our culture. In their time, these advertisements have promoted recreational smoking to a level where you almost didn’t belong to a group, if you haven’t smoked yourself.

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‘This is not a pipe’ in The Treachery of Images by René Magritte

Nowadays with the ban of smoking indoors and other areas, the situation is somewhat improved. A year back, when I was in Switzerland, where they still allow smoking inside bars and restaurants, I was hit by the tobacco smell when entering one, and immediately realized how much I didn’t miss it in Slovenia, where it was abolished years ago. I’m happy to see that these changes were made, and I’m sure they will benefit public health for years to come.

I hope this article changes your view on smoking, and the long way it has come, from a tradition, to an almost trend-like habit, practiced daily by the world.

Further reading:

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