Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/688

This page has been validated.



THE use of tobacco prevails throughout the whole world. Smokers alone are numbered by hundreds of millions. A million and a quarter acres of the earth are devoted to the cultivation of the plant, and the taxes on it alone in France amount to three hundred million francs (or sixty million dollars). A custom so general, a habit that has been maintained so long in the face of constant attacks upon it, should be considered seriously. It should be studied from every side, and the various elements of the question should be subjected to a complete analysis by the means of investigation now at our disposal, for it is a scientific problem of the first order. While it is of moral and philosophical interest, and its social con sequences are within the province of economists, it is for science, physiology, and hygiene to furnish experimental data as the basis for their deductions.

A proper study of the subject should be made with an independence of prepossession which it is not easy to find. Persons who have never smoked will talk of tobacco as the blind talk of colors; smokers have a fondness for their habit, while those who have been obliged to give it up are prejudiced on the other side. I am one of the reformed smokers. After having abused tobacco for about fifty years, I was compelled to abjure it. I fought my ground inch by inch, and yielded only to an absolute necessity. Knowing what the reformation cost me, I have not tried to make proselytes; but I intend to say what I believe is true upon a question which I have studied well, and on which I am not lacking in personal experience.

The tobacco plant belongs to the order Solanaceæ, and constitutes a genus (Nicotiana) named after Jean Nicot. It is cultivated through the whole world, and succeeds equally in the temperate zone and the intertropical regions. Two species are cultivated: common or large tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) and small tobacco (Nicotiana rustica). The first species is the most widely diffused. It is a large and fine-looking annual plant, growing to a height of about six feet. It bears large alternate leaves of a glaucous-green color, and is tipped with a cluster of elegant flowers having a pale-rose corolla and a persistent five-parted calyx. Small tobacco does not exceed twenty inches or two feet in height. Its leaves are thick, soft, dark-green, and viscously hairy. The terminal inflorescence comprises clusters of flowers composed of cymes. The pale-yellow corolla, a little greenish, is supported by a campanulate calyx, covered with glandular hairs and terminat-