20. Tobacco continues to shape world trade and economies today
Tobacco first came to Europe as a result of the voyages of Christopher Columbus. It soon became a leading export from the European colonies of the New World to their mother countries in the old. From there it became a trade item with the Arab world, Asian countries, the islands of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, until it was ubiquitous worldwide. Great fortunes were made from its cultivation and production. Its production contributed to the development of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, to the divisions which led to the American Civil War, and to the European Scramble for Africa in the 19th century. Yet it has done some good as well. In 1924 James Buchanan Duke endowed Trinity College in Durham, North Carolina, with $40 million of his tobacco-enhanced wealth. The school president renamed the institution Duke University, in tribute to James Duke’s father, Washington Duke.
Ironically, Duke University is home to one of the world’s leading cancer research centers. And that sums up tobacco and its impact on shaping the modern world. It has enriched thousands, and destroyed millions. It built fortunes for planters, producers, manufacturers, shippers, and retailers, as well as advertisers. The Marlboro brand, one of the most recognizable logos in the world, was worth over $30 billion by the onset of the 21st century. All of the major American tobacco companies have diversified into other industries, and both R. J. Reynolds and American Tobacco dropped the word “tobacco” from their names, with American Tobacco becoming American Brands. Yet all continue to aggressively market their tobacco products, and though smoking’s popularity in the United States has dwindled, cigarettes and other tobacco products continue to expand their markets globally.
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