If tobacco had never existed, what might the world be like today?  

If tobacco had never existed, what might the world be like today?



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kateanswers eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The world might look very different today if the tobacco plant had never existed or been cultivated. Over the past several centuries, tobacco has held a key role in globalization of trade, as well as a huge impact on people's health.

It is believed that tobacco has been cultivated by Indigenous Americans for centuries, perhaps thousands of years. Traditionally, the tobacco plant was used medicinally and in rituals. Because this plant was so highly prized by Indigenous Americans, they offered it as a gift to European explorers and colonists. Explorers like Christopher Columbus were impressed by the "cure-all" powers tobacco was believed to have and enjoyed the stimulating effects from smoking the dried leaves. These explorers brought tobacco back to Europe to share with the elites as evidence of the possible profits waiting in the New World.

Our history of global trade (and how the world is shaped today) would have been quite different without tobacco. Almost immediately after Europeans began colonizing the Americas, tobacco trade was roaring across the Atlantic and spreading around the globe. Tobacco was in high demand as a stimulant and (somewhat luxurious) trade good, in a similar class as tea and coffee. Much like tea and coffee, the growing and trading of tobacco soon became commercialized. We can observe commercial tobacco in the world around us today, primarily in the form of cigarettes and the companies which produce them. If tobacco had not been a part of the picture, slavery might not have been implemented in the United States, and Transatlantic trade would have been driven by other goods, like sugar.

With the spread of tobacco use, health problems grew, too. If tobacco had never been cultivated by Indigenous Americans and traded by Europeans, or if it had never existed in any form, global health would be very different. Lung, mouth, and nose cancer would be incredibly rare. Rates of heart disease would be significantly lower. Low birth weight and infant lung problems would also be far less common if tobacco use had never proliferated. On the other hand, tobacco's medicinal uses would also be missing from the world. Indigenous Americans often chewed the leaves to relieve toothache, which is arguably a positive use of the plant, and they might otherwise have suffered the pain of an infected tooth. Perhaps the biggest impact of tobacco on the world is the high numbers of people who would have lived longer, suffered less, and contributed more to the world without tobacco-related illness.