Friday, April 27, 2012

The New Essential Accessory

Chapter 64
It's a new century, a new millennium, and in many ways a brave new world. As elegant and essential as smoking was throughout the 20th century, the hard, cold fact is that it isn't socially tolerated today. And perhaps that's not altogether a bad thing. As we saw last week, smoke and ash pose specific issues detrimental to clothing and dressing well. Tobacco has run its course, it seems, and it appears that the effects of a century of gross overindulgence have closed the door for good. 

Puffing a pipe or rolling a cigarette isn't seen as the innocent indulgence it once was -- it is more likely seen as an affront to society, akin to pulling a gun on the poor fellow sitting at the next table. An over-cautious and somewhat reactionary populus sees smoking as a grave health concern not just to the smoker, but to the smoking-adjacent as well. 

Obviously, a new pastime for the well-dressed adult needs to be found; one that both fulfills the role that tobacco has played for five hundred years, and at the same time addresses its adverse issues. In fact, such an item already exists, albeit in its embryonic form. It is rather inelegantly called the "electronic cigarette."

E-cigs have been around for about ten years, surrounded by a mix of mystery, suspicion, and mis-information. Rumors abound concerning just what they are, and the FDA is puzzled as to just what to do with them.

Let's crack the mystery, lay bare just what this new bit of tech is, dispel the myths, and discover why this just may be the new Essential Accessory for the twenty-first century!

What we know today as the "e-cigarette" was invented in April 2000, by a pharmicist and inventor in Beijing named Lik Hon. When his father died of lung cancer after a lifetime of heavy smoking, so the story goes, Mr. Hon developed a device that looks like a cigarette, acts like a cigarette, and feels like a cigarette, but without any of the carcinogens of combusting tobacco. It was patented in China as an "Aerosol electronic cigarette." The inital American patent was filed in May 2007 as an "Emulation aerosol sucker," and was elaborated upon and expanded in his U.S. patent filed November 2010 as an "Electronic atomization cigarette." The amount of nicotine delivered can be varied, weaning the smoker off of his addiction. The company he works for, Ruyan, produces and markets them. A few rival companies began producing their own versions soon after; but all commercial e-cigs are made in China by these few companies, and are re-branded by thousands of re-sellers worldwide.

E-cigs are commercially produced in several sizes and forms, from sub-cigarette up to cigar size, and even a pipe shape. Regardless, they all work on identical principles: a small nickel-metal hydride rechargeable battery powers a small heating element made of coiled nichrome wire. This wire (the atomizer) is in contact with a wick soaked in the working fluid. This fluid is heated to its vaporization point, and this vapor is the carrier that is inhaled. The fluid is replaced by disposable cartridges as it is depleted. 

Several things are immediately apparent even with this bit of information. First, this is not a cigarette in any sense of the word. It contains no tobacco, does not combust anything, and does not produce smoke. In fact, even calling it an "electronic cigarette" adds much to the confusion surrounding the technology. Some new terminology has thus arisen: those "in the know," (and that's you, now,) call it a Personal Vaporizer, or PV. The lingo works like this: Smokers produce smoke by smoking cigarettes -- Vapers produce vapor by vaping PVs. Simple, right?

Another misconception is that a PV's working fluid is some sort of "liquid nicotine." Actually, it's nearly entirely propylene glycol, with a tiny (and variable) amount of nicotine and flavoring added to it. Vaporized propylene glycol is in fact the very technology that is used in fog machines; so this is not tech that is breaking any new ground -- merely its utilization, and its battery-powered miniaturized scale.

Let's look at propylene glycol for a bit -- it has an interesting history, it's at the heart of the PV, and it holds some fascinating surprises. 

Also called 1,2-Propanediol or C3H8O2, propylene glycol is a very versatile substance, used as a food preservative, an additive for food colors and flavorings, a solvent for medical preparations, a moisturizer, and a carrier for perfume oils and soap bases. Its pharmacokinetics show it to be also quite safe. It is metabolized in the human body largely into pyruvic acid and converted to energy. Propylene glycol does not cause sensitization and it shows no evidence of being a carcinogen or of being genotoxic.

But that's nothing compared to a discovery made in the late 1930s, that it was also a very effective germicide! 

A study at the University of Chicago by Drs. O. H. Robertson, Edward Bigg, Theodore Puck, Benjamin Miller, and Elizabeth Appell, called THE BACTERICIDAL ACTION OF PROPYLENE GLYCOL VAPOR ON MICROORGANISMS SUSPENDED IN AIR proves the germ-killing properties of propylene glycol, and is very interesting reading for the technical-minded.  

Time magazine ran the story, called "Air Germicide," on Nov. 16, 1942. It reads, in part: 

"A powerful preventive against pneumonia, influenza and other respiratory diseases may be promised by a brilliant series of experiments conducted during the last three years at the University of Chicago's Billings Hospital. Dr. Oswald Hope Robertson last week was making final tests with a new germicidal vapor — propylene glycol — to sterilize air. If the results so far obtained are confirmed, one of the age-old searches of man will finally achieve its goal...

The researchers found that the propylene glycol itself was a potent germicide. One part of glycol in 2,000,000 parts of air would — within a few seconds — kill concentrations of air-suspended pneumococci, streptococci and other bacteria numbering millions to the cubic foot...

Dr. Robertson placed groups of mice in a chamber and sprayed its air first with propylene glycol, then with influenza virus. All the mice lived. Then he sprayed the chamber with virus alone. All the mice died...

Propylene glycol is harmless to man when swallowed or injected into the veins....Last June, Dr. Robertson began studying the effect of glycol vapor on monkeys imported from the University of Puerto Rico's School of Tropical Medicine. So far, after many months' exposure to the vapor, the monkeys are happy and fatter than ever. Dr. Robertson does not expect mankind to live, like his monkeys, continuously in an atmosphere of glycol vapor; but it should be most valuable in such crowded places as schools and theaters, where most respiratory diseases are picked up."

Dr. Robertson took out the patent on the method of sterilization of air by vapors in November 1943. The above illustration is the method of vapor production used in the initial experiments. One can easily discern the key components of the modern PV even at this early stage:  the syringe acts as the cartridge, the atomizer (as today) is the wick wrapped in an electric heating element. Air is drawn over the atomizer, mixing with the vapor, and into the test chamber.

Propylene glycol was planned to be used in large-scale air disinfection in hospitals, until it was discovered that ultraviolet light gave the same result...and it was much easier to wire up a simple light, than devise a system to pump vapor through an HVAC system. So the concept wasn't pursued, although Dr. Bigg patented an apparatus that did just that in March of 1944. Glycol and water were heated to their vaporization points together in a tank by an immersion coil, providing humidification as well as sterilization. Since water and glycols vaporize at different rates, an ingenious device using a thermoswitch automatically regulated the water to maintain the concentrations in equilibrium.

In 1946, he filed a patent for an improved distribution system, which wasn't issued until 1950. In this version, the glycol is vaporized indirectly: instead of direct contact with an atomizer, glycol is fed at a controlled rate onto a series of baffles in a branch line of ductwork. The air in the branch line is electrically heated to vaporization temperature, and is drawn up past the baffles by way of a venturi in the main duct, vaporizing the glycol as it passes.

In March 1950, Leonard Cartwright patented a method of localized vapor production that began to look like a large version of a PV. In fact, it is by very definition a "personal vaporizer." In this instance, the propylene glycol is fed from an exterior reservoir into a shallow dish, that is in contact with an incandescent light bulb and heated to vaporization temperature. Convection currents draw air over the dish and up the chimney, ostensibly into a hospital room. Apparently it worked very well; the inventor makes mention of the visible "fog" that it produces.

In August 1965, Herbert Gilbert patented a design for a "smokeless non-tobacco cigarette," that at first blush would seem to be the progenitor of the modern PV. In fact, many people mention this patent in the same breath with PVs, which is why I'm including it here. It isn't related to the modern PV, though. Instead of the atomizer/glycol arrangement that is at the heart of a PV, this design used a long, thin incandescent bulb or vacuum tube (!), rather improbably powered by a tiny button-cell battery to merely heat the air that has passed over a saturated "flavor cartridge" filter medium. Nowhere in the patent is propylene glycol mentioned -- and the heater would be insufficient to reach vaporization temperature in any case.

All the components of the PV were thus proven and firmly in place since 1940, but the technology to make it small enough to be truly personal and portable didn't exist until now. And now you see what Mr. Hon happened upon -- not merely a nicotine replacement, but a personal, portable germ-killing air sterilizer! Could there be a better accessory for the twenty-first century? The problem is, the marketing and advertising is all wrong. The PV is the diametric opposition to cigarettes -- vaping makes you healthier! -- but the nicotine issue has regulating agencies in a quandry, since they are unable to divorce nicotine from tobacco

In fact, e-juice requires no nicotine at all; it is perfectly possible to vape pure propylene glycol. There is no psychopharmalogic effect, no flavor -- just a cool misty vapor that, in itself, is rather refreshing.

But, taking into account the benefits of the vapor itself, (and even if it is used with nicotine, it's not as addictive and sans the deleterious effects of tobacco,) is it as visually impactful and elegant as tobacco? Does it fulfill the role of the preoccupative hobby? Above all, is it enjoyable?

The answer is an unqualified yes, in all points. The act of vaping produces a thick visible glycol vapor that when exhaled, looks and behaves like tobacco smoke. It dissipates quickly -- so no smoke-filled room effect -- it presents no lingering odor, and is unstaining. 

The process of vaping involves both replacing batteries and re-filling or replacing cartridges, or alternately "dripping" directly onto the atomizer. This necessitates carrying a cigarette-case-sized accessory box with these items, and gives the vaper just as much to do with his hands as a pipe-smoker. 

Although Lik Hon's original design for PVs were meant to perfectly duplicate the appearance of "real" (or as vapers call them, "analog") cigarettes, vapers soon realized there is absolutely no reason for a PV to look like a tobacco product at all. There are now a large number of "modders," who enjoy taking PV components and cosmetically changing their appearance or improving their efficiency. Some craftsmen have taken PV technology and gone the other direction, incorporating it into very traditional pipes. The technology is so basic and standardized, it is entirely possible for the average home electrical hobbyist to make a PV entirely "from scratch."  Amateur mixologists enjoy customizing their own non-nicotine e-juice: for propylene glycol is a natural medium for perfumes and flavorings. Any soluble candy-maker's flavors can be added and mixed for a wide variety of tastes, from coffee, to crème de menthe, to strawberry cheesecake, to chocolate.

As with beginning any new and unfamiliar endeavor, the most difficult step is the first one. The choices seem to be bewildering. Remember that all commercial PVs are extentions of only a handful of distinct designs produced by only a few manufacturers. Here's a good summary of the different styles. 

The all-important question of choosing a "starter PV" has been handily addressed by the good folks at, which is the world's best online compendium of all things vaporizational. They recommend the mid-size 510 series, and I agree with them. The aforementioned e-cigarette-forum has a wealth of information at all levels of use and expertise. Most of the folks there are former heavy analog smokers that have switched to vaping, with a good cross-section of working folks, scientists, doctors, and mad-scientist modders.

Do I think these PVs are a world-altering paradigm changer? You bet. But not because they are nicotine replacement therapy. That's looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Dr Oswald Robertson may not have foreseen a world in 1943 where "mankind could live...continuously in an atmosphere of glycol vapor," but that future is here, now, and we can all take a swipe at airborne respiratory diseases. If you're not a smoker, just don't use the nicotine juice; vape propylene glycol. Vape all you want, of the most delicious juice you can mix, and look stunning while doing it. It's the "new smoking," and it can be every bit as elegant as it was in 1940. And a whole lot healthier.

Click here to go to the next essay chronologically.

Click here to go back to Part Three of The Essential Accessory.

Click here to go back to Part One of The Essential Accessory.

Click here to go back to the beginning.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Essential Accessory, Pt. 3

Chapter 63
Dressing well and smoking seem to go hand-in-hand. The resurgence of smoking in the early 19th century neatly coincides with the introduction of Brummelian modern dress. When Americans started favoring the "smoke" over the "chew" in the late Victorian era, the execution of American tailoring took great leaps forward. The Golden Age of Classic Style in men's clothing, from 1935-1965, seems to perfectly parallel the Golden Age of smoking. And adult modes of dress have departed the scene, along with smoking's denouemont in the late 20th century.

Is this synchronicity or coincidence? Let's summarize five hundred years of tobacco history, distill it down to just six points, and give our judgement.

First, tobacco is enjoyable largely because of the presence of nicotine. Nicotine, a tertiary amine compound and a natural insecticide, is found naturally in the plant. It is also the primary psychoactive agent in tobacco, with a half-life of 1 to 2 hours in humans. Just sixty milligrams of pure nicotine is fatal; but if absorbed in low doses, nicotine acts as both a stimulant and relaxant. Its psychoactive effects are many: it enhances sharpness, calmness, alertness, concentration, memory recall, and arousal. It decreases anxiety and sensitivity to pain. In other words, the physicians who complained to King James I in 1602 that tobacco should be available by prescription to prevent abuse, may have had a very good point.

There may also have been something to General Pershing's assertion that the troops needed cigarettes as much as bullets, in light of what we now know of nicotine's quantifiable effects. It enhances everything a soldier needs to give him an edge in combat. In fact, it appears to be one of the few psychoactive drugs that don't have any remarkably negative effects. Other than the drive to take more of it. 

Second, nicotine is addictive. Having taken it, the impulse is to take it again, and more of it. This is partially because tobacco also contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors, which increase nicotine's addictive properites. It's also because human brains are lazy. When an artificial substance (like nicotine) enhances the actions of your brain's natural norepinephrine and dopamine, your brain interprets this as overproduction, and conserves energy by producing less of those hormones. Take away that nicotine boost, and your brain perceives the loss. But instead of boosting hormone production, it will initially simply crave more nicotine, sometimes for months, before normalizing.

Third, the tobacco plant is a carcinogenic brew of elements. When sinus passages, gums, cheeks, throats, and lungs are asked to absorb tobacco continually over spans of years, stresses are introduced into body parts that they were never intended to weather, and cells mutate into cancerous growths.

Fourth, humans are incredibly susceptible to suggestion. Audio-visual encouragement to an action, repeated often enough, is blindly followed. The common denominator: the advent of large-scale international broadcast media. Movies were talkies, with larger-than-life heroes, sweeping plots, majestic soundtracks, and beautiful women. Radio and Television were beamed directly into your living room: a uniquely inimate and personal medium that was previously unthinkable. And these media were truly global in scope.  

Fifth, humans are weak-willed. Demand of any good or service will always increase to match an ever-increasing supply. The numbers show that cigarette use grew to absurd proportions by 1970: the entire planet was essentially chain-smokng, with a commensurate inflation of cancer. 

Sixth, humans are stupid. Even given contravening evidence of eventual dire health benefits, behavior is not likely to change if it causes any immediate discomfort.

We need to interject a strong caveat here, and a call for balance. Yes, tobacco use through most of the twentieth century led to many horrible, lingering deaths. But consider: instances of lung cancer before 1870 were practically unheard-of, despite tobacco's worldwide use since 1600. Rather than draw the typical conclusion that "tobacco use kills;" perhaps we should amend that here to "tobacco abuse kills."

Mmm...atomic hot wings...
One cigarette irreparably damages your lungs. We can all agree to that. For that matter, one loud concert irreparably damages your ears. One atomic hot wing irreparably damages your esophagus. One day on the beach irreparably damages your skin.

The key, as in everything, is moderation. Exceed that moderation, and bad things might happen. Concerts every night might leave you deaf. A diet of hot wings might give you ulcers. Life under a tanning bed might give you melanoma. A gallon of scotch every day might give you cirrhosis of the liver. Big Macs for every meal might make you fat and clog your arteries. And chain smoking cigarettes might give you lung cancer.

But is there a direct correlation between clothes and tobacco? There doesn't seem to be. Unfortunately, the world isn't that simple. Dressing well and smoking existed in parallel, without an "A equals B" equation to tie the two inextricably together -- but there may just be an overarching paradigm that led them both along similar paths.

The visual media, beginning in the late 18th century, was so uniquely world-changing because we are a culture of imitation. We have always been so, but with mass-accessible print media, and then with moving pictures, fashion became instantly communicate-able, as were the myriad accompanying details related to the "lifestyle of living well." Hollywood brought the world to the neighborhood theaters, and Television got right inside our living rooms. We could see for ourselves what looked good, what looked elegant, and what we thus wanted to imitate; without having to attend salons, travel the world, or be sufficiently heeled to hang out with society's fashionistos -- in fact, without even having to leave our living rooms.

Nerd hero.

The world was caught off-guard in the 20th century advertising media storm, frankly. The media-naive public didn't quite get that advertisers did not have their best interests at heart; something we jaded postmodern folk take for granted today. With elegant people on the silver screen, heroes on the newsreels, and your new best friends on the radio, came not just examples of correct dress, but all manner of other things, including behavior, language, mannerisms, drinking, and smoking. 

(Those younger than 30 may
not know who this is.)
And why not smoke? Your favorite movie stars did, your friends did, your boss did. The media told you that smoking was fun and harmless, and would make you thin, popular, sexy, and successful. Not sending cigs to troops overseas was tantamount to talking treason. And there was the physical effect of the nicotine itself. There was really no compelling reason to stand against the flood of advertising and media. 

Smoking was uniquely suited to the media of the time. For one thing, it looked gorgeous. Black-and-white film's gritty noir works well with curls of smoke catching the sunlight and enrobing the actors with aethereal tendrils of graceful movement. Powerful men of industry's powerful cigars emit thick billows that echo the smokestacks of their factories. Thinking men puff contemplatively on their pipes. 

If there is one thing more compelling than visual media to shape behavior, it is direct peer pressure. Two world wars jump started a generation of smokers. GIs, smoking under fire, saw first-hand the benefits of nicotine -- and if they survived the war, by the time they got home they were hooked. They were heroes. And every man wants to emulate his heroes.

But for all the parallel development, smoking and dressing well have been well-suited together. Consider:

A vintage hand-roller for cigarettes.
The ritual of smoking gives one something to do. Actors used it as a "cheat," but men found that a distracted focus adds a level of insouciance to their demeanor. Notice it in the old films: some accessory of a character's hobby is a preoccupation, to selectively distract or enhance focus to his conversation. Dressing well adds immediate gravitas to his presence; and he can casually direct the pacing and focus of that presence with the "actor's cheat." Rolling a cigarette, cutting and toasting a cigar, or tamping, poking, and stoking a pipe -- all of these impart varying shades of subtlety that communicate far more than words alone.

(*This is actually a prewar illustration from Esquire,
but shews the point well: elegance is timeless.)
Post-war economies emphasized a life of ease. Powerful cars, large houses, multi-martini lunches, and playboy lifestyles all accented a culture of excess and plenty. Unnecessary pleasures and indulgences were signets of status, and few things were more extraneous than smoking. A sumptuous men's club, a cigar, a glass of port, a fine suit -- not everyone could afford these on a regular basis, but most men could afford a nice suit and a cigarette at a restaurant. Close, sometimes, is close enough.

Not addicted to smoking. Seven percent
solutions of cocaine are another matter entirely.
And finally: the striking visuals that accompany smoking in the old media, translated well to everyday life. The gossamer magic of pearly smoke, partly obscuring, partly curling about a person, still holds a peculiar sway over us. Note that this does not apply to the crowds of people who today huddle together in the cold and rain, outside office buildings, desperately chain-huffing cigarettes before running back to their cubicles. There is nothing insouciant or elegant about addiction, no matter how well dressed it may be.

Nor is there anything especially compelling about smoking, when divorced from the requisite adult attire. The finest pipe or hand-rolled cigar, in the hands of a man in a tee-shirt and flippy flops, is just an odd non-sequitur.

So what can we do with this information? In attempting to dress like a grownup, do we -- in fact, can we -- co-opt the smoky elegance of yore? 

One wonders why the light is there at all.
The problem with tobacco and clothes is, no matter how well they worked together on the silver screen, they present some real problems together in real life. Especially life in a rabidly non-smoking twenty-first century. 

Tobacco is a staining agent: it discolors everything with which it comes in contact. Fingers, lips, and teeth, certainly; but also fabric, walls, ceilings, and one's surroundings. Your fine clothes will look somewhat less fine with a brown-grey cast on them. This is more of a problem with habitual smokers, than those who smoke only moderately and occasionally (which, as we have demonstrated, is the wiser method,) but is worth mentioning.

The issue of ash is a formidable one as well. Combustion of tobacco creates great heaps of the grey fluffy stuff, and something must be done with it. Ash is easily caught on the breeze, can fall at inopportune times, and sometimes is not wholly extinguished. More than one man's day has been spoiled by a smouldering bit of ash that blew back on his jacket, or in the cuff of his trousers.

What to do after smoking gives the well-dressed man pause, too. Once you've started, you're committed...and no matter how dashing you look during a smoke, afterwards you're left with cigarette butts, cigar ends, or dead pipes. Which all look inelegant and rather sad, somewhat like holding an empty glass at a party.

You can't really smoke with impunity today like you could in bygone days. Just try to light up within olfactory distance of anyone at all, and there will be upturned noses and voiced complaints, and sometimes the unwelcome intrusion of the constabulatory. Certainly not the casual elegance to which you aspire.

And, saving the worst for last: the smell. The most aromatic pipe tobacco, five minutes after the last ember dies, just smells like stale smoke. Stale smoke sticks to everything, and doesn't come out. Remember your grandfather's closet? Everything had that old-man smell. Not elegant, whether on your clothes, in your car, or in your house. No well-dressed adult wants to smell like a creaky old man.

It's pretty apparent that smoking in the twenty-first century is not going to work. There's just too much societal animas to make it viable. So let's find an option that fits today's well-dressed man. Is there an "ultimate accessory" for 2012, something that fits all of the criterion of classical smoking? It should be a preoccupative hobby, perhaps evoking the "classic" lifestyle of the mid-twentieth century, without looking dated or deliberately "retro." It needs to look striking and elegant when paired with grownup attire. It needs to look "at home" with the traditional trappings of living well. And it needs to be visually striking in some way: adding to the elegance of a suit, without detracting attention from it. And it must not intrude on others' preferences, which means nothing burning, smelly, ashy, stain-y, or an any way outré to offend the increasingly delicate sensibilities of those with whom we must share the planet.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Essential Accessory, Pt. 2

Chapter 62
This week, we're continuing our look at the history of tobacco use. The best-dressed people of the past hundred years were smokers, and I shall not rest until we find if there is a correlation! 

Because snuff is for sissies and French aristocrats.
We'll take up from where we left off last time -- the dawn of the nineteenth century. Political revolutions had arisen in America and France, and shortly thereafter Beau Brummell and the Dandies had begun a revolution in men's fashion. Tobacco was undergoing a revolution as well, for smoking cigars and pipes had once again overtaken snuff as the nicotine delivery method of choice.

Quoth the gentleman in the center with flaming whiskers:
"Fire Fire Oh dear my best Mustacios will be quite
Also notable in that in 1824, smoking
was nicknamed "steaming" and smokers were "steamers."
Cigars became all the rage in England. The 26 pounds of cigars imported in 1826 explode into a quarter-million pounds a year by 1830. Chemist John Walker contributes a nifty phosphorus-and-wood invention in 1827: the Congreve. the lucifer. the match. Whatever the name, better living through chemistry meant instant fire was now available upon demand. Meanwhile, in formerly cigar-centric Spain, the cigarette catches fire in the mainstream, the rolled paper version we recognize today having been perfected by Turkish and Egyptian artillerymen. And in America, chewing tobacco holds sway over pipes and cigars.

The American temperance movement of the 1830s builds momentum against tobacco, due in no small part to the near universal disregard for spittoons, as much as by the medical research of the day. The Annual Report of the New York Anti-Tobacco Society for 1855 calls tobacco a "fashionable poison," warns against addiction and claims half of all deaths of smokers between 35 and 50 were caused by smoking. 

In America, smoking cigars ("stogies," named for the Conestoga wagons in which they were shipped West,) was dwarfed by the habit of chewing tobacco leaves. In antebellum Virginia and North Carolina, there were nearly 350 tobacco factories, all of which produced chewing tobacco; only 6 produced smoking tobacco, and then only as a side-product. 

British soldiers in the Crimean War in 1853 discovered the Turkish cigarettes, and brought the practice back to Old Blighty. Londoner Philip Morris (yes, that one,) began making them locally in 1854.

After the Civil War, (during which tobacco was issued as rations, and after which was paid by federal tobacco taxes,) the science and innovation of the Industrial Revolution was beginning to be put to bear on the industry. Development of southern "bright" and Ohio "white burley" varieties made for a lighter tasting and sweeter leaf. Most of the American consumption was still as chew, and in fact in 1880 only 8 cigarettes were smoked per capita.

Bonsack's Infernal Contraption.

Then a 21-year-old Virginian named James Albert Bonsack invented and got a patent for an automatic cigarette-rolling machine, and within five years everything changed forever.

Blue Devil.

In 1881, "Buck" Duke's cigarette factory in Durham, NC produced 9.8 million cigarettes: 1.5% of the total market. In 1884, Buck relocated to New York City, bought two Bonsack machines, and cranked out 744 million cigarettes, more than every other company combined over the previous year. His exclusive contract with Bonsack enabled him to slash prices and undersell his competition. The end of the 1862 Civil War excise tax on cigars had cracked the smoking market again in America, more men were smoking, and Duke could see the writing on the wall.

In 1889 Buck Duke consolidated the five leading cigarette companies as the American Tobacco Company, with himself as the president. (His megacompany was short-lived, though: it was dissolved by anti-trust legislation in 1911.) Duke found himself faced with a saturated market of cigarettes when most people chewed -- and at the time, cigarettes were generally seen as the least healthful and manly way to smoke. So he did what any tycoon would do with a useless and unwanted product: he created his own market, with vast advertising campaigns. 

The tobacco industry invented many advertising techniques that we take for granted today, like billboard ads, household items with logos, lithographed posters with provocative ladies, perception saturation, and collectible cards. In a brilliant move that simply utilized a cardboard insert used as a box stiffener, there were baseball cards, of course, but also automobiles, famous actors, flags of the world, pinups (of course!) and many more. Human nature being what it is, then as now, people are compelled to collect complete sets of series of things.

Interesting to note: in 1889 there were only 140 documented cases of lung cancer worldwide.

By 1890, the US per capita cigarette smoking rate quadrupled, to 35 cigarettes a year, up from 8 in 1880. More shockingly, chewing tobacco consumption in 1890? Three pounds per person. 

Anti-cigarette movements abound by the new century, with strong restrictions on cigarette sales or consumption in 43 of the 45 states. This drives many small companies out of business, but 4.4 billion ciggys are still sold in 1900...and Buck Duke sold 90% of them. And that doesn't even take into consideration the 300,000 cigar brands that were already on the market.

The death of anti-tobacco Queen Victoria and the succession of her son, smoker Edward VII did much to bolster the image of smoking in the Empire and worldwide. 3.5 billion cigarettes and 6 billion cigars are sold in America in 1901; and cigar smoking spikes -- 4 in 5 men smoke at least one per day.

By 1910, the US per capita smoking rate had risen to 151 cigarettes a year. 

In 1911, the 250-year ban on tobacco-growing in England is repealed.

Doesn't get plainer than that.
Through the 1910's, many of the states' earlier tobacco laws were lifted, and smoking skyrocketed. In 1917, the Automated Short Filler Cigar Machine is patented, making cheap, mass-produced stogies readily available. When the US entered WWI, and the War Department bought the entire output of Bull Durham tobacco for war rations. General Pershing thought "tobacco as much as bullets" was needed to win the war. Since Turkish leaf was unavailable, American tobacco did very well.

Prohibition in 1919 was seen by many as the first step to banning tobacco in America as well as alcohol; but in 1920 the US per capita smoking rate was up to 477 cigarettes a year. Nevertheless, state tobacco taxation began in 1921, and 15 states had again banned the sale, manufacture, possession, advertising and/or use of cigarettes. In 1922, cigarettes surpass chewing tobacco pound-for-pound for the first time in the US.

By 1930, per capita consumption was up to 977. As the Depression wore on, most hand-rolled cigar companies folded, in favor of the cheaper mass-produced stogies, and "cigarette price wars" started to keep the down-and-out supplied in discount dime-a-pack brands. On the other end of the scale, Benson & Hedges offered the first cigarette with a filter tip, mouthpiece, and hard box.

Tobacco advertising had always played a large part in the industry, back to the days when Buck Duke had produced so many cigarettes a year he had to invent the market for them -- but the new media of Radio, and later, Television, was a particularly unique market suited for mass persuasion. Our favorite movie and radio stars sold their "favorite" brands, and dulcet-toned "doctors" espoused the benefits of smoking. The lines between commercial and program were very blurry then, and a perhaps-too-gullible public bought wholesale into the hype with unprecedented abandon.

Burgess Meredith's understudy.
That complete media saturation, Prohibition, and the Depression, had conflated into a "perfect storm" for smokers: in 1940 consumption per capita was up to 2,558, two and a half times that of 1930. As part of the War effort, Roosevelt made tobacco a protected crop. 

You don't hate you?

Cigarettes were included in C-rations, and tobacco companies sent millions of free cigs to GIs -- consumption was so fierce, a shortage developed for the first time. By the end of the War, sales were at an all-time high, and climbing.

1950's consumption was 3650 per capita, despite the long-term correlation between smoking and lung cancer, which could now be studied in a large and impossible-to-ignore part of the population. 

(They probably started in the War.)

No amount of legitimate medical evidence could compete with the juggernaut of television and print ads, though, and the cigarette companies pushed back against legislation and lawsuits with fervor. 

Dr. Leo Spaceman: he's also a pretty good dentist.

A series of wrongful-death lawsuits in the mid-'50s, and 1955's "See It Now" on CBS linked smoking with cancer for the first time on TV, which led to FTC regulation prohibiting health references in all cigarette advertising; including references to the "throat, larynx, lungs, nose, or other parts of the body" or to "digestion, energy, nerves, or doctors." This was no small thing: a large chunk of ads featured some sort of "medical endorsement."

In 1957, a major step across the pond was made when the UK's Medical Research Council accepted the link between smoking and lung cancer -- something on which the FDA was still dragging its heels. Indeed, American advertising was steamrolling right along, medical endorsements or not.

Cowboys really smoked cheroots.
By 1960 consumption in America ballooned ever higher, to 4380 sticks per person per year. Liability suits piled up on the one hand, the Marlboro Man was lounging on bill boards and riding across TV screens on the other hand...but it looked like the cowboy was winning. In 1963 the FDA finally made a move -- but decided that tobacco did not fit the "hazardous criteria" definition of the Federal Hazardous Substances Labeling Act of 1960. 

Why did it take America so long to even acknowledge tobacco's health problems? Because tobacco still made America run, like it did in 1730. The tobacco industry served 70 million smokers and took in 8 billion dollars per 1964 dollars. (That's the equivalent of $58½ billion per year today.) That kind of money buys a lot of power -- power to advertise, power to spin the media in their favor, power to set up "gifts-for-favors" deals with opposing factions. Like many things that the Industrial Revolution touched, demand and supply rocketed to keep pace with each other, and neither side had the impetus to slow down -- or even self-regulate. Nevertheless, the message was getting through.

The BBC decided to ban cigarette ads in 1965, and the US finally added health warnings to cigarette packs in 1966. In a remarkable move, in 1967 the FCC allowed non-smoking groups to respond directly to cigarette ads on television. By 1970 cigarettes are the most heavily advertised product in America, (take a minute and let the import of that statement sink in) but the message was out there...and more people realized that Emperor Tobacco had no clothes. The louder and more shrill and insistent the advertising became, and the more the tobacco representatives insisted that there was absolutely nothing wrong with their healthy and wholesome product, the more sceptical the public became. Demand levelled out, then dropped off. And kept dropping.

In 1971 the TV cigarette ads in the US were banned. (The unintended consequence was the elimination of the non-smoking counter-ads as well.) And without the constant ads, people's heads started to clear, and they were able to look around and realize what they had become -- a nation of chain-smoking nicotine addicts.

From this point, it's all well-known recent history. The slow decline in smoking was inevitable. A small renaissance in cigar and pipe smoking came about in the 1980s, as non-inhaled smoke was seen to be a lesser threat.

For the past twenty years, it's been James I in 1604 all over again. As governments nibble away at the places we are allowed to smoke, the taxes on tobacco have increased: growing the governments' dependence on an income source they are ostensibly trying to eliminate.

So what bits of information can we glean, in the context of five hundred years of history? Next time, we'll draw some conclusions to the historical arcs of Beau Brummell to Cary Grant to Mad Men, paralleling the rise, use, and decline of pipes, cigars, and cigarettes.

Click here to go to the next essay chronologically, Part Three of The Essential Accessory.

Click here to go to the previous essay chronologically, Part One of The Essential Accessory.

Click here to go back to the beginning.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Essential Accessory, Pt. 1

Chapter 61

This month, we're casting our gaze at tobacco. Cigarettes, cigars, and pipes -- coffin nails, death sticks, lung darts, fags, smogs, stogies, rollies, or baccy: that small bit of burning tinder that fashionable men of years past have kept perpetually in-hand. 

They're almost universally seen in the grasp of the well-dressed man of the last century; in fact, it's nearly a maxim that you can't be truly well-dressed without something smouldering in your proximity. 

You might notice that the demise of adult dress has coincided to a greater or lesser extent with the demise of the smoke. Could there possibly be some sort of correlation between the two? Let's look at the history of tobacco and smoking first, see if there are any trends we can trace, and then try to draw some conclusions.

It is worth noting that smoking is purely an American invention. There was no use of the stuff at all outside of the Americas in the ancient world. Although the first appearance of the tobacco plant was 6000BC, it was only smoked and chewed by the natives as late as 1AD. A further five hundred years on, and the Central American Mayas and Toltecs spread the custom to the North American Indian tribes. Amidst the development of a complex system of politico-religious rites, was the development of ancient implements that we would recognize today as the forerunner of modern pipes and cigars. 

Fast-forward a thousand years or so, to 1492. Columbus, upon landing and being mistaken for a minor deity, was offered dried tobacco by the Arawak Indians. He later threw it away, not knowing its purpose. A month after the initial landing, Rodrigo de Jerez, searching for the King of China (in Cuba...insert eyeroll and facepalm here,) observed the making and smoking of a cigar. Jerez brought some back to his Spanish hometown in 1501. Unfortunately, his neighbors, terrified upon seeing the smoke of the devil roiling from his nose, turned him in to the Spanish Inquisition, who imprisoned him.
Unknown if the Soft Cushion was employed
By the time poor Jerez was released, smoking was already catching on in Spain, thanks largely to a monk who accompanied Columbus on his second voyage, Ramon Pane, who wrote lengthy scholarly descriptions of the natives' process of both smoking and snuff-taking. Brer Pane requested Hernando Cortez bring a load of tobacco back to Spain in 1518, and thus got the credit for introducing tobacco to Europe. Cigar smoking had become popular with the Spanish lower classes by 1530.

1560 saw the introduction of the pipe-weed to France, where it was so well-received by Catherine de Medici, she dubs it Herba Regina.


Sailors of Spain and Portugal, meanwhile, were happily smoking away, spreading the practice at ports-of-call over the Old World, and thus to English sailors. Scurvy slave-trading sea-admiral Sir John Hawkins is credited with introducing tobacco to England in 1565. 

Throughout the remainder of the sixteenth century there was much interest in the medical properties and benefits of Nicotina tobacum, imagined or otherwise, and it became recommended for all manner of diseases and maladies, whether smoked, polticed, chewed, steeped, or, well, there's no other way to say it: enema-ed.

In 1602, the optimistic view of tobacco's health benefits were countered by the publication in England of Work of Chimny-Sweepers or A Warning for Tabacconists, which compared the illnesses of chimney-sweeps and smokers, and found them to have similar effects. Other physicians countered the argument, and a complaint was lodged to King James I that tobacco was being freely used without a prescription.

He also wrote the Bible,
you know.
The King then wrote A Counterblaste to Tobacco  in 1604. In addition to bewailing the moral failing of taking a drug merely for pleasure, and expressing distaste for imitating the bad habits of barbarians, he notes that autopsies found smokers' "inward parts" were "infected with an oily kind of soot." In trying to keep his subjects from smoking, with all good intentions, he used the most expedient method available: he made tobacco more difficult to purchase, by increasing taxes on it by 4,000%. That stopped people from buying tobacco, all right, but it just as quickly dried up the treasury funds that had been coming from those sales. Two years later, James cut tobacco taxes 60%, and watched the tax money pour back in. So, in a scheme that the United States would imitate centuries later, he received a large income from the sale of the very thing he professed most to despise. The tug of war between punitive taxation, and the need to sustain the behavior being taxed, had begun.

James I in 1614 made the import of tobacco a royal monopoly: and in London alone, there were 7000 tobacconists. If you need any more proof that nothing is new in the world, in 1610 the first tobacco vending machine was invented: a pipeful of tobacco for a penny.

Meanwhile, in 1614 Spain, Seville was set up as the tobacco center of the planet, the world nexus of cigar production. A sort of proto-cigarette was also developed here among beggars, as a cheap way to smoke leftover cigar scraps.

The first part of the seventeenth century saw tobacco use sweep across the near east and into China, while in the Colonies the production and export of tobacco became so important it became the Colonial monetary standard, used as money in Virginia for the next 200 years.

Proof that smoking kills?
There were some early holdouts to the smoking craze: China forbade its use in 1612, making it punishable by decapitation in 1638. Romanoff Russia banned it in 1613; the first offense was a one-way trip to Siberia -- the second offense was execution. (Peter the Great, a smoking advocate, repealed the Russian ban in 1689.) In 1617, use of tobacco in Mongolia was punishable by death, and it was banned in Japan in 1620. Bhutan banned smoking in public and in government buildings in 1640, (preceding the US by three hundred and fifty years.) In 1633 in Turkey, Sultan Murad IV made smoking an executable offense as an infidel; his successor Ibrahim the Mad (yes, really!) lifted the ban.

Bring out your dead, indeed.

And so it continued, with a pushme-pullyu of taxes, legislation, permission, and prohibition through the 1600s, as nation-states tried to decide just what to do with this new pastime. During the Plague of 1666, smoking was thought to ward off infection, (yeah, that didn't work,) and in many instances tobacco was only available with a doctor's note.

You will note that throughout history, there is generally a correlation that can be drawn between the freedom any nation allows its people to live their lives and make their mistakes unencumbered by their government, and the ability of that people to smoke freely.

Partaking of snuff.

The eighteenth century saw a general trend away from pipe smoking and towards using snuff, which was the favored method of the French courts. It became the "aristocratic" form of tobacco use, and in fact smoking was banned in France in 1719. The American Colonies built its economy essentially completely on tobacco by 1730, building snuff mills, tobacco factories, warehouses, and manufactories as fast as demand allowed. 

The darker side of American history, of course, is that these factories had to be stocked from vast plantations, which ran on the backs of slave labor: human harvesting machines. The 1705 Virginia Assembly's law legalizing lifelong slavery, in order to efficiently run the tobacco plantations, was a dark blot on the early face of the landscape -- a new Republic formed seventy years later, on the basis of equal creation of all men, would have a hard time wresting the concept of human ownership away from the minds of the people.

Meanwhile, English doctors in the 1760s continued to draw cause-and-effect between snuff and cancer of the nose, and exposure to soot and developing cancer -- much like the old Chimny-Sweepers publication of 1602 had been.

The American Revolution of 1776 was due in no small part to tobacco: Colonial growers were forever in debt to British merchants and the British tobacco taxes. Tobacco exports provided credit to fund the war, and American tobacco taxes repaid the war debt.

The French Revolution soon after saw a return to the cigarito by the French masses, as it was the form least like the snuff of the aristocracy, and by 1800, snuff had generally fallen out of grace altogether, in favor of smoking again.

Scientists had by 1810 isolated nicotine from tobacco smoke, and while noting its effect, realized by 1828 the "essential oil" of nicotine was in fact a powerful poison in its pure form.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
 Clement Moore had by 1823 meanwhile isolated Santa Claus as a pipe smoker.

So now our stage has been set! We'll leave this week at the dawn of the Regency period, and the beginning of what we know as the Modern Era of menswear, spearheaded by Beau Brummel. Next time, the Industrial Revolution, the Victorian and Edwardian eras, lots of Wars, Prohibitions, and a lil' thing called Television.

Click here to go to the next essay chronologically, Part Two of The Essential Accessory.

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