The tobacco epidemic: lessons from history

J Psychoactive Drugs. 1992 Apr-Jun;24(2):99-109. doi: 10.1080/02791072.1992.10471631.


Tobacco has caused the greatest epidemic of the twentieth century, which is beginning to wane in the United States, but is still growing in much of the world. The epidemic developed as a result of innovations in the tobacco industry and larger cultural changes over the 75 years prior to the introduction of Camel cigarettes in 1913. Factors that set the stage for the epidemic include the development of flue-cured and Burley tobaccos, the mechanization of cigarette production with its consequent concentration of capital in a few companies, the safety match, efficient transportation systems, and innovative advertising. Between 1913 and 1963, the cigarette industry experienced almost unbroken growth in the United States. However, since the early 1950s, increasing evidence that cigarettes cause lung cancer and other diseases has dictated that product innovation concentrate on the appearance of safety. In the late 1960s and for a sustained period since 1973, cigarette consumption has declined in the United States, but in the developing world the epidemic curve of cigarette use is still on the upswing. As tobacco use declines in the United States, it is crucial that the production of tobacco products as well as their consumption be reduced. Otherwise, attempting to control the problem in the United States will not result in a net reduction in mortality around the world.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Disease Outbreaks / history*
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Smoking / history*
  • United States