It is commonly believed that the birthplace of tobacco, a plant belonging to the genus Nicotiana (especially Nicotiana Tabacum and Nicotiana Rustica, cultivated for their leaves to make cigars, cigarettes, snuff etc), was somewhere in the American continent
Certainly, when the Romans first came to Britain, the inhabitants of southern Mexico were already enjoying a smoke. They had no paper and wrapped their tobacco in palm leaves or corn husks, stuffed it into reed or bamboo, or rolled tobacco leaves into crude cigars.
For the rest of the world, the tobacco story started on October 12th 1492 when Christopher Columbus landed on an island which he renamed San Salvador. The natives told Columbus of another much larger island nearby and he immediately set sail, arriving off the Cuban coast on 28th October 1492.
Not knowing what to expect, he sent two of his fellow-explorers, Rodriguo deJerez and Luis de Torres, to scout the interior. In his log, Columbus reported that die two Spanish conquistadors met a large number of men and women, walking round “with a little lighted brand made from a kind of plant whose aroma it was their custom to inhale.”
That same day, Rodriguo de Jerez took his first hesitant puff of the New World’s early Version of the cigar, estimated to be as big as a man’s arm, and became the first European smoker in history.
When Columbus and his crew returned home with tobacco leaves, Rodriguo, who’d taken to smoking a cigar every day, made the mistake of lighting up the unusual plant in public. He was promptly thrown into prison for three years by the Spanish Inquisition – as the world’s first victim of the anti-smokers. After a brief period when pipe smoking was unfashionable, the smoking habit was revived with the growing European demand for cigars. “Sevillas”, as the Spanish homegrown cigars were called, were superseded by those from the then Spanish colony Cuba, boosted by King Ferdinand VII of Spain’s decree in 1821, which encouraged the production of “Cuban sticks”. In 1830, the first Cuban “segars” (as they were then known) to arrive in Europe were delivered to the London shop of Robert Lewis. Britain’s first cigar divan, Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, opened in London, two years later.
Over the next few decades, Europe’s trains introduced smoking carriages, hotels set aside smoking lounges for their guests, and smoking jackets and velvet tasselled smoking hats became “de rigeur” for gentlemen smokers. The after-dinner cigar, enjoyed with a glass of port or brandy by gentlemen who left the female diners to their own devices, became an established tradition.