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Francis Drake picked up ship captain Walter Raleigh in 1585 at the failing English colony at Roanoke Island, Virginia, and took him back to England. The other Europeans at the colony vanished but some claim they didn’t all die but moved west and became known as the Melungeons. On his return to Europe, Raleigh brought tobacco with him and thus the smoking of it became available to Europeans and quickly after the rest of the world. The New World also provided some wonderful foods: potatoes, tomatoes, chili pepper, peanuts, manioc, chocolate, vanilla, sweet potatoes, corn and others. But, it was tobacco that gives pleasure while it kills that became the problem. The evils of tobacco were recognized from the beginning by everyone, including King James 1 of England who in 1604 tried to limit its use:

Have you not reason then to bee ashamed, and to forbeare this filthie noveltie, so basely grounded, so foolishly received and so grossely mistaken in the right use thereof? In your abuse thereof sinning against God, harming your selves both in persons and goods, and raking also thereby the markes and notes of vanitie upon you: by the custome thereof making your selves to be wondered at by all forraine civil Nations, and by all strangers that come among you, to be scorned and contemned. 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. (James 1604)

Now four hundred years later our U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, offers more scientific proofs of the obvious evils of tobacco. She finished her science based diatribe with, “This report concludes that damage from tobacco smoke is immediate.” “We didn’t know the fact that when you inhale one cigarette it affects the lining of the blood vessels.” In the question period she says about President Obama’s smoking habit,  “I’d give him the same advice I give to any patient, to try their best to quit smoking.” Well, in this country it may be possible to use the scientific proofs of tobacco’s harm to humans and thus to create and enforce laws prohibiting smoking or at least making it even more expensive than it already is.

Tobacco warning 2011

The new tobacco warnings are going to get ugly. Will it work? Ha Ha!

Years ago, I wrote, “As a rule of thumb, every minute you smoke is a minute off your life expectancy.” To that general statement, could be added, “Your health risk is directly proportional to the volume and intensity of your exposure to tobacco smoke so even second-hand smoke is a problem, especially if it is concentrated in a closed room.” Personally, I perceive the odor of distantly burning tobacco outdoors on a damp morning to be delightful. Conversely, its smell is amongst the most vile odors imaginable when it has been trapped indoors in a muggy room or on clothing exposed to tobacco smoke. Unfortunately, our sense of smell habituates quickly and after a few seconds of exposure we can ignore the stench. People I know seem to be horrified at the first smell of barely perceptible smoke but I suspect their anxiety at that level of exposure is worse than the smoke itself.

I must confess that I was once a pack-a-day smoker, “I am permanently addicted to tobacco” and therefore I can never take a single puff without relapse. I have quit successfully many times, for over a month and even for years, only to relapse after smoking a single cigarette. Perfect abstinence is far easier than occasional usage and it’s the only way out for an addict. So, now I have chosen that easy way and reject every offer, no matter how well intentioned.

The other great New World scourge which the American Surgeon General might address is syphilis. It is also a New World disease, along with tobacco which is a form of disease, at least that’s the historical consensus because syphilis appeared in Europe shortly after Columbus returned from his voyages of discovery. However, it may have originated in Africa instead because there are many other spirochete species living on that continent and only the single one is thought to have existed at that time in the Americas. According to an article in Archaeology Magazine, Origins of Syphilis, Jan 1997, the examination of many ancient human skeletons from around the world seems to indicate a New World origin. It appears that syphilis is an evolutionary development of yaws. Yaws disease is worldwide, but in the ten thousand year history of humans in the Americas it seems to have evolved into syphilis.

It is impossible to prevent diseases linked to pleasure.