Timeline: smoke to vape – tobacco over time
Long before Europeans arrived in the Americas, tobacco was part of the culture of many Native American tribes. These tribes had many different uses for the plant, ranging from recreational and ceremonial use to the plant’s use in various medical capacities, in particular as a painkiller. The American origins of the plant can still be found in tobacco’s etymology: the Spanish word tabaco (from which we get the English tobacco) likely comes from a native language of the Caribbean, possibly from either a Carib word denoting a tobacco pipe or to a Taino word for a primitive cigar.
The role of tobacco, however, was soon to change radically with the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. The introduction of Christopher Columbus and his men to tobacco marked the start of a new dynamic between humanity and tobacco. The plant quickly became an important item for trade, and developed over the next centuries into a crucial export (along with sugar and cotton) from the Americas to Europe, driving not only the process of colonization, but also demand for African slave labor.
The consumption of tobacco has lent to the creation of lots of language, including words for different methods of ingestion, including snuff, cigar, and hookah. When tobacco’s negative effects on health became apparent in the 20th century, language shifted to reflect this new reality, with terms like passive smoking and cancer stick coming into use. Explore the timeline above to see how the language and history arrives at the present moment, with vape, our 2014 Word of the Year.