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Conceptions about "tobacco" in the Greek books published during the second part of the 18th century
D. Karaberopoulos, A. Oeconomopoulou
Hellenic Society on the History of Pediatrics
32nd Panhellenic Medical Congress, Athens, May 2006


The Greek medical books, which were published during the second part of the 18th century, were investigated for the purpose of presenting the perceptions concerning "tobacco", which were written at that period. From our research it was ascertained that in two books tobacco is mentioned:

A). The book of the famous Physician in Lausane, Samuel Andre Tissot, (1728-1797), "De la sante des gens de lettres", which was translated by Konstantinos Michael, (1751-1816), while he was student at the Medical School and it was printed in Vienna in 1785 titled "Εγχειρίδιον...Περί της των πεπαιδευμένων τε και άλλων ανθρώπων υγιείας», "Manual...for the health of intellectuals and others", which includes tobacco in the pp. 172-180.

B). The book of Physician Kontantinos Michael, "Διαιτητική" "Diets", Vienna 1794, in which there is a text titled «Περί της νικοτιανής ήτοι τουτουνίου ένθα κα περί πταρμικού ταμπάκου» "About tobacco and snuff tobacco", pp. 263-271.


In the first book it is noted that the usage of tobacco has been consolidated, but the intellectuals should not give over to its usage, as tobacco "disturbs the whole brain as opium does" and especially brings the same results in the senses as "intoxicated drinks". Also it is indicated that " if tobacco does not do damage to everyone, it at least damages a great number of people" and it is added that "tobacco is not necessary to anyone".

It is written that tobacco smoke contains "a very sharp salt and a lethargic sulfur united with the oily part". The salt irritates the salivary glands and so produces a lot of saliva. The running of excess saliva, with the term "sialism", has as a result the loss of saliva and appetite, weakness to the stomach and intestines. In a sub-note it is especially noted that the "oil of tobacco" when applied on a wound, acts as "a fast acting lethal poison".

In the text there is mention of people's opinion that when tobacco is used "it helps them have normal bowl movements", regarded as "something wonderful". People's opinion that tobacco is a cathartic for worms, the writer considers this as not true "I do not know of any action that proves it". It is pointed out that tobacco causes "agitations, headaches, dizziness, lethargy and apoplexy". Especially the writer is opposed to the opinion, that was expressed by those who use tobacco "that tobacco protects them from apoplexy". On the contrary he supports that tobacco produces apoplexy, it is "αποπληξίφερον" and it does not protect from apoplexy, it is not «αποπληξίφυγον», terms which are produced by the writer in the Greek language. It is emphasized with relevant quotations, examples given by famous physicians that tobacco produces serious pathological states, as for example Albrecht von Haller, (1708-1777), who supported that tobacco produces "φθίση", tuberculosis.

Nevertheless the writer Tissot wonders "does tobacco not have any benefits?". He also mentions some "beneficial therapies" from tobacco, especially when the fume of tobacco passes trough a tube and "its narcotic oil" is affixed on the walls of the tube. This inspired fume of tobacco may irritate "the salivary glands which are not in very good operation", "to improve the movements of stomach and intestines". Furthermore it may "help some forms of asthma" by dissolving "the thick phlegm, which blocks respiration and helps us to expectorate". Moreover the writer adds that he read that tobacco "had helped overweight people" lose weight, wondering if the cause of the loss was due to the decrease of appetite or the increase in "action and movement of fibers". Also he refers that it has an antispasmodic property according to Friedrich Hoffmann, (1660-1742), who had cured with fume of tobacco "strong colic", but the writer notes that an explanation of that action of tobacco is not given "whether it acted as cathartic or as a painless medicine".

Finally the writer refers to the habit of some people to put the "pounding tobacco" in their nose nostrils. He stresses that by doing so, the nerves of the nose are irritated, the sense of smell is blunted and dizziness and faint occur. The writer concludes with the remark that tobacco "weakens memory and damages eye-sight" and so this should “prompt the intellectuals and all others to abandon its use".


The writer of the second book "Diets", "Διαιτητική", Vienna 1794, Konstantinos Michael, who was the translator of the previous book in the Greek language, dedicates a chapter titled "About tobacco and snuff tobacco", in which he repeats the same as in the first book. Moreover he adds that the people of Ottoman and Persians "inhale the fume of tobacco frequently and with a distinguished skill..., using long pipes and inhaling the tobacco smoke reclined on a divan according to their prevalent habit and adds that the inhaled tobacco smoke having been passed through water resulting in the smoke having a milder sense and loosing its original strength, therefore causing less harm.

The writer Konstantinos Michael concludes that since the harmful effects of tobacco are widely known then whoever is not in the habit of using tobacco it is therefore wise to avoid it, as the use of tobacco causes ill health and is totally unbeneficial.

We further add that under the title "Ψόγος νικοτιανής" "Blame on tobacco" a manuscript circulated against the use of tobacco by Nicolaos Alex. Maurocordatos (1670-1730), which was later printed in Venice in 1876 by the Phycisian Sophocles Oeconomou (1809-1877).

In conclusion we support that in the Greek medical texts published during the end of 18th century regarding the health of people the negative effects of tobacco are presented, even though some beneficial effects are mentioned.

See the interesting study, Antoinette Emch-Deriaz, Tissot, Physician of the Enlightenment, American University Studies, Series IX, History, vol. 126, Peter Lung, New York 1992.
Konstantin Michael notes that "herbal nicotin got its name from the name of a French named John Nicotis" who introduced its use in France in 1559. It is also named "tobacco" from the name of an island in America, though in the Turkish language it is named "toutounio".
These terms are not contained, as we noted, in the vocabulary book of St. Koumanoudis, Συναγωγή νέων λέξεων ( Gathering of new words), Athens 1900, reprinting by K. Dimaras, Athens 1980.
See Phil. Hliou- Popi Polemi, Hellenic Bibliography 1864-1900, vol. 1, 1864-1879, Athens 2006, no. 1876.452, p. 969.

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