TIL that James I of Britain tried to persuade people to give up smoking in 1604

4년 전

He personally wrote a pamphlett called A Counterblaste to Tobacco fulminating against the new practice of smoking, which had been brought into the Kingdom first through trade with Spain and then from the American colony of Virginia.


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His arguments against smoking were good and ranged from pointing out that those who claiming smoking cured illness were charlatans, warning about what we would now call passive smoking ("Moreover, which is a great iniquitie, and against all humanitie, the husband shall not bee ashamed, to reduce thereby his delicate, wholesome, and cleane complexioned wife, to that extremetie, that either shee must also corrupt her sweete breath therewith, or else resolve to live in a perpetuall stinking torment") and ranting away about the smell - "this stinking smoake being sucked up by the Nose". As you can see he used the word "stinking" a lot.

He ends his pamphlett with this splendid description of tobacco smoking:

A custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomelesse.

Did he persuade anyone?

Sadly no. His mistake was to try to persuade people by the sheer force of his argument by publishing the pamphlet anonymously. No-one took a blind bit of notice.

Furious that no-one was paying attention, he decided to use the power of the monarchy to achieve his ends.

He banned growing tobacco in Britain (and as far as I know it has never been planted here as a result), and then increased the tax on imports of tobacco by 4001% to £1 for three pounds of tobacco imported, which was a huge sum 400 years ago. He then reissued the pamphlet but this time with his name at the bottom, King James I.

James' son Charles I increased the tobacco duty further in 1633

The duty was already eye-wateringly high when Charles I increased it in 1633, and it is believed that this helped to trigger the English Civil War. There would have been lots of merchants who were making good money selling tobacco to addicted Englishmen, and they had the ear of Parliament, which already thought that Charles I was acting in a high-handed way.

One proof that the tobacco duties did contribute to the English Civil War was that once poor King Charles I was beheaded and Oliver Cromwell was in charge, Parliament cut the tobacco duties drastically, so that people could enjoy their habit cheaply.

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Poor Charles I - seems like the tobacco lobby was as powerful 400 years ago as in our day.