Five out of every six male adults smoke, whether it be cigarette, cigar, or pipe. That is, in a gathering of, say, 600 men, 500 will be smokers and 100 non-smokers. At least, this is the estimated proportion in the old country. In Australia the ratio is about the same, but the average amount of tobacco used by every smoker is greater. According to Mr. T. A. Coghlan in his Wealth and Progress of New South Wales, the annual consumption of tobacco in Australia for each inhabitant is 3 lbs. all but a fraction. For the United Kingdom the corresponding amount is 1.41 lbs.; and for the United States of America, 4.40lbs. Italy, it would seem, consumes in the same way 1.34 lbs.; France, 2.05 lbs.; Germany, 3 lbs.; Austria, 377 lbs.; Turkey, 4.37 lbs.; while Holland reaches the excessive amount of 6.92 lbs. Of the five colonies of Australia, namely, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and West Australia, the use of tobacco is greatest in the latter two; the figures for Queensland being 3.53 lbs., and for West Australia 4.11 lbs.
With regard to the effect of tobacco on the human system, it will perhaps be most convenient to make a division into the following three classes. In the first place there are a certain number of people upon whom tobacco in any shape or form has an absolutely poisonous influence. There must be some peculiar susceptibility of the system in their case which renders them especially vulnerable to its action. On this account, therefore, they are better without tobacco at all, and any attempt to habituate themselves to it must be attended with prejudice to health. Secondly, there are many other people who can only use tobacco in its very mildest forms. They may be able to smoke a few cigarettes daily, perhaps only three or four; if they indulge in a cigar, it must be one of the mildest; if a pipe, the tobacco will have to be the very lightest. Anything exceeding their allowance is an excess for which they are obliged to pay the penalty. Then, again, there is a third class who can enjoy tobacco in moderation. But these are the very people who are most apt to abuse their privilege. And although they do not recognise it at once, the effect of their excessive smoking is bound to assert itself at last, and compel them to curtail their allowance. If those in the second category, who can enjoy the mildest tobacco in the smallest quantities, and those in the third, who can smoke in moderation, were never to exceed their proper amount, no very great harm would follow. But it most frequently happens that both overstep their respective bounds, and the result is injury to health.
The tobacco plant, Nicotiana Tabacum, belongs to the order Solanacea, which also includes belladonna, capsicum, henbane, and likewise the common potato. Its active principle, an alkaloid - nicotine or nicotia - is combined with a vegetable acid. Some of the alkaloids, such as morphine, strychnine, etc, are crystalline in character, but this, along with a few others, is liquid. A single drop of it is fatal to the smaller animals, a cat or rabbit for instance.
Even as it is, the first smoke usually produces characteristic results. There is generally pallor of the face, nausea, and vomiting. Usually a cold, clammy sweat breaks out, and the heart seems as if it were about to stop. The system, however, gradually becomes habituated to its action, and these symptoms do not reappear. Seeing that this somewhat unpleasant apprenticeship is uncomplainingly served, it is evident that in smoking there must be some powerful attraction. There are many, indeed, who persist in it when it is doing them an inconceivable amount of injury.
It is a fortunate thing that almost all of the nicotine passes off, or is burnt up, or else the effect would be more markedly disastrous. But the pleasurable effects of tobacco are derived in great part from the volatile alkaloids formed during combustion. The alkaloids which develop during the smoking of a pipe are entirely different from those of a cigar. In a pipe, according to Vold and Eulenburg, the tobacco yields a very much larger proportion of volatile bases, especially of the very volatile and stupefying pyridine. On the other hand, a cigar produces but little pyridine, but more of the less active collidine. It is well known that very much stronger tobacco can be smoked as a cigar than as a pipe. As a matter of fact a cigar which could be enjoyed as a cigar, would cause sickness if cut up into small pieces and smoked in a pipe. This pyridine to which reference has just been made has lately been brought forward as a remedy for asthma. Now, the effect of tobacco in cutting short an attack of this latter malady is, at times, very marked. And Professor See, the eminent French physician, believes that the pyridine is the relieving agent.
In the earlier part of this section I have attempted to form a provisional classification of people as far as the effect of tobacco is concerned. Firstly, those upon whom tobacco in any shape or form is an absolute poison; secondly, those who can enjoy a very small amount daily; and thirdly, those who are able to smoke in moderation. Now, while those who use tobacco with wise discretion appear to be none the worse for it, yet it unfortunately happens that far too frequently there is no limit to this discretion. It is too often the case, therefore, that quite a serious amount of damage to health results from excessive smoking. It requires a good deal of judgment, and even more resolution, to use - and not abuse - tobacco.
There are certain symptoms which should lead a man either to curtail his allowance, or else give up tobacco altogether. These are marked nervousness, trembling of the whole body, unsteadiness of the hands, and twitching of different muscles. There may be also swimming of the head, severe headache, and a feeling of despondency. In other cases there may be irritability of temper, a want of will determination, and progressive loss of memory. The special senses - sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch - may all be blunted. The sight and hearing are often markedly affected. Colour blindness is sometimes a result, and there may be that impairment of vision known as tobacco amblyopia. As regards the hearing, too, there is not unfrequently a drumming in the ears and confusion of sounds.
And more than this, tobacco, when unsuitable or used in excess, has other prejudicial effects. Its action on the heart is well known, and is frequently manifested by violent palpitation and by disturbed action of the heart. There is also a definite disorder known as "the smoker's heart." In this affection the beats, instead of being regular, are very rapid, suddenly becoming very slow. In this way the rhythm of the heart has been aptly compared by Dr. Lauder Brunton to a restive horse, who goes into a gallop for a few yards, next pulls up all at once, and then breaks off into a gallop again. "When tobacco has these prejudicial effects upon the heart, it is no good diminishing the allowance. The only way to bring about any good result is to knock it off altogether.
In addition to its direct action on the heart, tobacco smoking may also bring on a sudden fainting, in which there is absolutely no warning. This condition may develop from the tobacco alone, but in many instances nervous excitement or shock are superadded. Professor Fraser, of Edinburgh, has observed that quite a number of his college friends, who smoked to an inordinate extent as students, were obliged to give up tobacco as middle age approached. Several of them had to do so on account of the onset of these sudden fainting fits. Many smokers also suffer from what is termed chronic pharyngitis. In this affection the mucous membrane at the back part of the mouth looks like dirty-red velvet, and there is also a constant hawking of phlegm. And further, indigestion itself is in many cases entirely due to excessive smoking, from which there is no relief except by abandoning the habit altogether.
But even when tobacco does not produce such marked ill effects, it is as well to remember that it has always a definite action from a gastronomic point of view. And it is this, that directly after the first draw of a cigarette, cigar, or pipe, the palate loses its delicacy of perception. As Sir Henry Thompson remarks, after smoke the power to appreciate good wine is lost, and no judicious host cares to open a fresh bottle from his best bin for the smoker. This is perfectly true; under such circumstances valuable wine would simply be thrown away. But, on the other hand, there is an unquestionable sympathy between coffee and tobacco, and a cup of Mocha blends harmoniously with choice Latakia. This is well recognised in the East; and throughout the Continent coffee and temperate habits go hand in hand with the cigar or cigarette. We must also agree with Sir Henry when he declares that smoke and alcoholic drinks are only found associated together in Great Britain and other northern nations, where there are to be found the most insensitive palates in Europe. It is a good thing, therefore, that the habits followed here are unknown to him, or else Australia would certainly have had a rap over the knuckles.