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Reflections: smoke rings

Wee Kek Koon

 

Recent media reports state that a Mexican drug cartel is forming links with Hong Kong gangsters to supply cocaine and methamphetamine (or Ice) to users in Asia, whose numbers are growing. Another addictive substance - tobacco - was brought to China from the Americas back during the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644).

Following the discovery of the "new world", in the late 15th century, plants native to the Americas, such as the potato, chilli and tobacco, were introduced to the rest of the world and, eventually, to China. Tobacco was cultivated on Luzon (part of the modern-day Philippines) by the Spaniards and brought to China by the Fujianese. The plant, which was called tam-ba-cor in the southern Fujian dialect, took root in China.

By the late Ming dynasty, enough people in China were smoking tobacco pipes that traditionalists were writing that "it was a demonic influence" and that "no upright and virtuous gentleman" should take up the habit. By the time the Qianlong emperor came to power (1735), "wet" smoking - where tobacco smoke is passed through water before inhalation - had become popular.

In what was an early health warning, a local gazetteer reported that "although it is different from smoking opium, it also damages one's health with no benefits whatsoever".

 

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