Giving Compass' Take:

· Although US smoking rates are reported to be at an all-time low, Richard Gunderman at The Conversation analyzes the factors that influenced its initial rise to popularity.  

· How does the media influence the public and their perception of smoking? 

· Read a guide to help funders snuff out tobacco.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls cigarette smoking “the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S., accounting for over 480,000 deaths per year.” The CDC just announced that smoking rates among U.S. adults have fallen to the lowest level ever recorded – only 14 percent, less than a third the rate just 70 years ago. While this decline is remarkable, it also points to a puzzle: How did smoking rates ever get so high in the first place?

Tobacco smoking originated in America around 3,000 B.C. Seafaring traders introduced it to Europe and Asia in the 17th century. One of the first anti-tobacco publications ever issued was King James I’s 1604 “Counterblaste to Tobacco,” in which he condemns the practice as “loathsome to the eye, hatefull to the nose, harmefull to the braine, and dangerous to the lungs.”

Smoking has several appeals. First, tobacco naturally contains nicotine, an insecticide, which raises alertness, speeds reaction times, and stimulates the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, which are associated with pleasure. Second, smoking may provide opportunities to flout authority and fit in with peer groups. Third, once someone has started smoking, attempts to stop may precipitate withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, nausea, anxiety and weight gain.

Cigarette smoking in the U.S. really caught fire in the first half of the 20th century. Technology played an important role. Through most of the 19th century, each cigarette had to be rolled by hand, which took about 15 seconds. But in 1875, a Richmond, Virginia, company offered a US$75,000 prize for the invention of an automatic rolling machine. The prize was claimed by James Bonsack, whose machine could roll 200 cigarettes per minute, dramatically increasing capacity and lowering production costs.

Read the full article about smoking rates in the U.S. by Richard Gunderman at The Conversation.