Quitting smoking, not the easiest task by any stretch. Plenty try and most fail. Those adverts designed to persuade us to quit smoking certainly don’t do much to alleviate the stresses of the guilty smoker, with dangers including: arteries rammed full of yellow gloop and idiotic children trying to puff on a crayon (frankly, this advert concerns me for more reasons than than passive smoking). A world that includes skyscraper sized cigarettes is certainly not one that I want to live in. In spite of the trials of the modern day smoker, imagine living in a time where your habit would have had you labelled an ‘ape’ and a sinner by your own king.
James I, king of England, successor to Elizabeth I, survivor of the Gunpowder plot was also a vehement critic of smoking. In 1604, his work ‘A Counterblaste to Tobacco’, became one of the first anti-smoking publications of all time. James was a talented and well educated man, he authored many works and earned himself the unshakable title of ‘the wisest fool in Christendom’. Whether this title is wholly complimentary is certainly questionable, James’ attitude towards smoking and more specifically Tobacco, was not.
Just as James I had done some 300 years earlier, a certain Austrian dictator was also to publicize the perils of smoking. Whereas Hitler, as he had done for most of Germany’s mishaps, blamed the importation of this nefarious habit upon the Jews, King James I was equally contemptuous towards the ‘barbarous’ Indians for introducing this disgusting new trend into his beloved country. To James, smoking the Native American remedy for ‘pocs’ was tantamount to imitation – the great people of England may as well be walking around naked with feathers in their hair.
What James I lacked in racial tolerance, he made up for in some disturbingly familiar observations on the practice of smoking tobacco. Although seriously hindered by the medical knowledge of the time, James I still managed to identify some causal links between smoking and its side effects. For instance, he recognised that smoking was ‘dangerous’ to the lungs, while those around him nonchalantly puffed away on this new delight from across the Atlantic. The boy born in Edinburgh Castle was certainly right in assuming that the foul smell of tobacco smoke did not bode well for our poor little alveoli.
“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.”
‘Peer pressure’, just another aspect of smoking that James I correctly identified.
“We cannot be content unlesse we imitate every thing that our fellowes doe, and so proove our selves capable of every thing whereof they are capable, like Apes, counterfeiting the maners of others, to our owne destruction.”
The number of people who started smoking as part of some disappointingly familiar guise to be ‘cool’, will forever stagger me, old James I saw it for what it was.
By today’s standards, a remedy for gout, that could make an alcoholic sober, induce sleep – while also being useful in keeping you awake, and one that could alleviate stomach problems, is certainly a dubious one. This being considered, James was by no means the Stephen Hawking of 17th Century England for finding holes in the ‘omnipotent power of Tobacco!’
While identifying the link between smoking and lung problems is probably the most striking achievement of this publication, James I also identified a few other features of smoking that, if we’re all honest, we loath in equal measure.
Lets be be truthful, we all hate the breath of a smoker – James I was also not a fan. He proclaimed that a man who smoked, was a selfish man. He argued that a man who smoked tobacco should be ashamed of himself, for he was corrupting the ‘wholesome’ and ‘clean complexioned’ woman that he called his wife. At the very least, a husband was damning his wife ‘to live in a perpetuall stinking torment.’
He, like many of us, was repulsed by the idea of people smoking at the dinner table. He condemned smoking in the ‘Dining Chamber’ as being unclean, it polluted the air and the food on the table. James is remembered as quite a lavish king, it is hard to see his meals as being less than decadent, it is hardly surprising therefore, that he viewed those who soiled his epic meal time with such disdain.
When James I became king on the 25th July 1603, he inherited a kingdom in a very poor economic condition. Desperately looking for sources of revenue, it is unsurprising that in 1604, he should turn to the very lucrative Tobacco trade as a new source of income. The cynics among us, will say that ‘A Counterblaste to Tobacco’ was just a means of legitimizing an onslaught on a highly lucrative industry by emphasizing its perverse features.
It is doubtful if we will ever find out the true root and cause of James I’s vigorous assault on tobacco smoking, which in parts, was well ahead of his time. James I work seems even more impressive, when we consider that he advanced his ideas in an age where medical treatment amounted to treating conditions such as syphilis with a good old bath of mercury. Still, Adolf Hitler is widely credited as the first major leader to oppose smoking. However, after studying James I’s critique, we can quite safely say, back off Hitler, James beat you to it.