It is almost universally agreed that tobacco smoking causes lung cancer and a host of other human ailments. In some countries, tobacco smoking became very popular among the upper classes as early as the 1500’s. It was less popular among the lower economic classes because of the high cost.
According to the article, “Tobacco History: A Brief History of Tobacco Use”. from Tobacco.org’s “Tobacco Timeline,” “an early explorer of the Americas, Rodrigo de Jerez, brought the habit of smoking tobacco back to Spain around 1504. By 1511, smoking was popular throughout Spain, and by 1531, Europeans were cultivating tobacco.”
From the article, “Smoking in England—Elizabethan,” which is from, “The Gentle Art of Smoking,” by Alfred H. Dunhill, in 1586 Sir Frances Drake returned to England with several colonists who “brought with them pipes, tobacco seeds and plants and their example of what was at first called ‘drinking’ tobacco smoke (inhaling and apparently swallowing it.) —- From that time, at any rate, smoking developed from the private pleasure of a few ‘tobacconists’—as the first smokers were called—into a social practice.”
Also, according to the article, tobacco was so popular that it was literally worth “its weight in silver.”
The rich used silver smoking pipes, but the poor, if they could afford the tobacco, had to be satisfied “with a pipe made from a walnut shell and a straw.”
According to the article, “Evarts A. Graham and the First Pneumonectomy for Lung Cancer”, “before 1900, lung cancers were viewed as ‘matters of medical curiosity not known to be in any degree influenced by medicine and too rare to be of much practical importance.’ Adler compiled the world’s entire experience of 374 cases (of lung cancer) in his textbook. Primary Malignant Growth of the Lungs and Bronchi: A Pathological and Clinical Study, published in 1912.”
They also state that , “the acclaimed surgeon Alton Ochsner claims that his entire Junior class was summoned to witness a postmortem examination of a lung cancer patient. George Dock, then chief of medicine at Washington University, —– suggested that the group might not witness another case in their lifetimes.”
I relate all this evidence of the early history of tobacco smoking and the time frame of the advent of an epidemic of lung cancer to demonstrate that there exists a four hundred year gap between the time that tobacco smoking became popular and appearance of significant lung cancer cases. It is generally agreed that it usually takes about 30 years for lung cancer to develop from tobacco smoking, so a four hundred year period with no significant lung cancer defies logic.
To those who would now say that the low number of lung cancer cases was due to the fact that it was not recognized, I cite the book by Adler which addressed the disease specifically and the postmortem examination by the surgeon Ochsner. The disease was definitely known by the medical community so large numbers of lung cancer deaths would have been noted.
I have never read any theories as to why this discrepancy exists. I have never even heard it discussed.
I am not a scientist or medical professional, but my layman’s mind can think of a few possibilities.
Since it is definitely a disease of the modern era, perhaps some other factors present in modern day life combine with the tobacco smoke to make a toxic cocktail. Factors such as air pollution or industrial toxins could be combining with the tobacco smoke to cause cancer.
Some may say that the amount of smoking per person in the early days was less and if so, that could account for a lower incidence of lung cancer but not for an almost total absence. Until the American south discovered cotton, tobacco was a major export to the rest of the world.
Perhaps the medical establishment is so convinced that tobacco smoke is the main culprit that they don’t bother to look any further.
In my mind this riddle deserves an answer. It could be the key to progress in finding a cure for lung cancer, which to date has a very disappointing survival rate.
I. Adler “Primary Malignant Growth of the Lungs and Bronchi: a Pathological and Clinical Study.”/Longmans, Green and Company, 1912.
“Tobacco History–A Brief History of Tobacco Use.”from Tobacco.org’s “Tobacco Timeline ” by Gene Borrio/intheknowzone.com
Alfred H. Dunhill/”Smoking in England—Elizabethan” from “The Gentle Art of Smoking”/Tobacco.org
Leora Horn and David H. Johnson/”Evarts A. Graham and the First Pneumonectomy for Lung Cancer”/Journal of Clinical Oncology