Sir Walter Raleigh has had some bad Press down the years.
Even my wife Maria blamed him for bringing tobacco to England from the Americas.
“John Lennon said so,” she proclaimed. “So it must be true.”
Lennon wrote and sang the song So Tired on the White Album by the Beatles. It had the memorable lines: “I’m so tired, I’m feeling so upset; Although I’m so tired, I’ll have another cigarette; And curse Sir Walter Raleigh, He was such a stupid get.”
Sir Walter didn’t introduce tobacco to England, but he did popularise smoking at the court of Queen Elizabeth. At the time, this practice was so unknown that his servant once doused him with a bucket of water after seeing clouds of smoke because he thought was on fire.
While the debate on the benefits of e-cigs is ongoing, the very real dangers of smoking is undisputed.
The World Health Organisation is unequivical: “Addiction to tobacco kills one person prematurely every six seconds.” It adds: “It is as addictive as heroin and cocaine.”
The warnings were there when it was first discovered by Columbus. Scouts sent into Cuba said they found men who sucked in smoke “by which they become benumbed and almost drunk, and so it is said they do not feel fatigue.”
A contemporary writer said: “I knew Spaniards on this island of Española who were accustomed to take it, and being reprimanded for it, by telling them it was a vice, they replied they were unable to cease using it.”
Tobacco had been used in the Americas for years, but not necessarily for recreational purposes. Shamen smoked it for its hallucinogenic effects and it was used ceremonially.
When the Spanish brought it to Europe in 1528, it was first regarded as a medicinal plant and one doctor claimed it could cure 36 health problems.
Not everyone agreed and King James I famously denounced tobacco in 1601, when he described smoking as: “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.”
Some would say he was not wrong. Nonetheless, within a few years it had become the most successful crop in Virginia and the colony’s largest export.
Its cultivation led to the world wide addiction to smoking tobacco that kills one person every six seconds.