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Tobacco is one of the most popular commodities in Southeast Asia. Statistics show that smokeless tobacco is consumed by about 250 million adults in Southeast Asia region (Sinha, Gupta, Ray & Singh 2012). Additionally, it has been reported that there are 600 million tobacco smokers in Southeast Asian countries, which is a further indication of the popularity of tobacco in the region (Sinha et al. 2012). The aim of this paper is to explore the commodity of tobacco in South Asia including its history, cost, features that make tobacco valuable, sellers, buyers, and the issues reflecting its value with respect to social change in Asia.
Tobacco use can be traced back to the first Americans. The natives of South and North America were the first to discover tobacco. Long before the arrival of Europeans in North and South America, the natives were already using tobacco (Burns 2009). Europeans arrival helped in increasing its popularity, because they made it a traded commodity. The settlers then introduced tobacco use in Europe. Since smoking high doses of tobacco can result in hallucinogenic effects, the Native Americans did not use tobacco for recreational purposes. The native tribes in the Northern American are known to carry huge quantities of tobacco since it is a trade item (Haustein & Groneberg 2010). They also smoked tobacco in pipe ceremonies including ceremonies for sealing an agreement as well as sacred celebrations. They perceived tobacco as a gift from their creator, and that the resulting smoke is perceived as conveying the thoughts of a smoker to the spirits. Besides being smoked, early Natives used tobacco for medicinal purposes, especially for curing colds, toothache, and earache (Burns 2009). Additionally, tobacco was used as a medium of currency between European settlers and Native Americans as from the 17th century. With the spread of tobacco use to European cultures, its primary use extended beyond religious purposes (Haustein & Groneberg 2010). Nonetheless, using tobacco for religious purpose is still a common practice among diverse Native Americans.
Whereas the Native Americans were the first to discover tobacco, the European settlers often take credit for transferring the practice to Europe. After Europeans arrived in the Americas, tobacco played a crucial role in powering colonization as well as the use of African slave labor. Tobacco was brought to Europe in 1528, and was known as the “sacred herb” due to its medicinal attributes (Burns 2009). By the 17th century, huge amounts of tobacco were being imported to Europe amidst controversy and resistance (Haustein & Groneberg 2010). The Industrial Revolution further played a crucial role in increasing the consumption of cigarettes beyond the Americas to other parts of the world.
In Asia, tobacco was first introduced in 1575 by the Spanish (Burns 2009). As of the mid-17th century, tobacco use was in the form of indigenous cigarettes and smoked in pipes. Indigenous cigarettes comprised of tobacco that has been shredded and then wrapped in palm or banana leaves. In Southeast Asia, betel chewing was the most popular form of narcotics for a long time (Haustein & Groneberg 2010). However, by the 20th century, the betel chewing practice was largely substituted by tobacco use during 1900-1950. In 1900, the chewing of betel was still common in Southeast Asia, but this practice was nearly substituted by tobacco smoking. The replacement of betel chewing by tobacco smoking in Southeast Asia has been attributed to education and modernity that occurred in the region during the 19th century as a result of colonialism (Haustein & Groneberg 2010). For the colonial rulers in the region, the chewing betel was perceived as a symbol of inferiority (Haustein & Groneberg 2010). As a result, smoking cigarettes was associated with education and modernity. The increasing education as well as the colonial influence were pivotal in increasing the practice of tobacco smoking in Southeast Asia. Smoking tobacco was largely seen as keeping abreast with the changes taking place in society and was associated with prestige and advancement (Burns 2009). Additionally, for men, smoking tobacco was perceived as a symbol of masculinity. The chewing of betel was also perceived as an outmoded practice because of the resulting blackening of teeth. Moreover, smoking tobacco was associated with the change from the agricultural economy to an industrial economy.
The decision to purchase a tobacco product is largely influenced by the price of the product as well as the income of a person making a purchase (Bader, Boisclair & Ferrence 2011). The prices of tobacco are an essential component of the marketing approaches deployed by the sector. Moreover, the prices of products are often set by the industry. Cigarettes are primarily a standard product that can be manufactured at relatively low costs on a large scale. Tobacco products are usually categorized in terms of economy and premium brands (Bader et al. 2011). Economy brands are cheap and affordable to many people. Contrariwise, tobacco-manufacturing companies rely on premium pricing to target customers who are addicted. Tobacco prices are a significant issue in public health since they are crucial when making the decision to use tobacco. Empirical evidence indicates that increasing tobacco prices by just 10 percent is capable of reducing the consumption of tobacco products by about 2-8 percent (Bader et al. 2011). Countries often use tax policies as a tool for regulating the prices of tobacco products.
Features Making It Valuable
Tobacco use has numerous attributes that makes it a valuable commodity; hence increasing its usage. The first attribute associated with tobacco that makes it valuable stems from its self-medication values (Harrison 2007). People who are addicted to using tobacco often cite numerous positive sensations such as heightened wellbeing sense and lower levels of tension. These positive sensations can be attributed to the fact that tobacco use results in the absorption of chemicals into the nervous system. Since tobacco is a drug, it works by altering the functioning and chemistry of the body when consumed. For some tobacco users, smoking is a form of self-medication for illnesses that lead to pain and tension. According to White (2009), people having anxiety disorders or depression are likely to embark on using tobacco since it helps in mitigation of these symptoms. Tobacco use also helps in relieving stress. Numerous individuals experiencing stress in their daily lives such as work pressure might decide to smoke tobacco as a means of managing tension and ensuring relaxation (Harrison 2007). Moreover, when tobacco is used moderately, it results in pleasant feelings that are likely to divert the attention of a person using it from feelings that may be unpleasant. This results in the user wanting more. Essentially, tobacco functions in the same manner as the other addictive substances, by increasing the reward circuits of the brain by dopamine. This results in a mild adrenaline rush.
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The second feature of tobacco that makes it valuable is the positive effects that it has on the performance of the brain. The nicotine found in tobacco helps people to increase their focus as well as their thinking (Harrison 2007). The research has shown the enduring impact of smoking tobacco in brain in the sense that those who smoke cigarettes show prolonged working hours and the ability to sustain concentration for longer when compared to those who do not smoke (White 2009). Essentially, nicotine makes the brain to function better. Nicotine has also been established to have an enhancing effect on memory, speed, motor skills, precision, and attention. Some have described tobacco as a work drug, contrary to other drugs such as heroin, cocaine, cannabis, and alcohol that are detrimental to work productivity. This explains why tobacco use is more prevalent among artists, athletes, scientists, musicians, writers, and stage performers. Some of the greatest scientists such as Albert Einstein were ardent tobacco smokers, and praised how tobacco enhanced their scientific thinking (Harrison 2007).
The third attribute associated with tobacco that makes it a valuable commodity is that it helps with weight control. Some people rely on tobacco use, especially through smoking as a means of controlling weight. Averagely, those who smoke weigh less when compared to those who do not smoke (Burns 2009). This can be attributed to the fact that tobacco smoking lessens one’s appetite including the sense of smell and taste. This could be a potential explanation for the weight gain among ex-smokers after quitting. Essentially, smoking tempers with smell and taste of food; hence, reducing appetite (White 2009). People who are keen on losing weight, such as models, might perceive smoking as something that is beneficial.
Sellers and Buyers
Tobacco is used by various kinds of people ranging from young people to adults. Various groups of people desire using tobacco for different reasons. The first category entail those who use tobacco to maintain their body image, especially women. The second category of people who desire smoking includes those who smoke primarily for purposes of relieving stress. Another group is smoking tobacco for social reasons (Bader et al. 2011). The majority of people in this category often use tobacco on social occasions such as parties, while drinking, or during the weekends. In addition, there are those who smoke primarily because they want to portray the rebel attitude and portray an image associated with self-confidence and non-conformity. Tobacco use is also common among those who are poor and have little education. (Burns 2009)
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Tobacco products are sold nearly on ant store outlet including pharmacies, grocery stores, convenience stores, and gas stations. However, the placement of these products are often limited and are usually positioned at the point of purchase. Most tobacco companies have developed string displays of their products in order to build an impression that the use of tobacco is popular and socially acceptable (Burns 2009). Buyers of tobacco products often comprise of the categories of people described in the previous section. However, it is imperative to note that tobacco products are not be sold to minors.
Issues that Reflect Its Value
Tobacco use is an issue of social relevance in South Asia. The first issue reflecting the social value of tobacco use comes from social rewards that people get when engaging a group activity. In most cases, this implies social acceptance (Burns 2009). Users of tobacco products, especially smoking often smoke in groups, which increases social bonding. Thus, tobacco provides its users with a sense of camaraderie and acceptance. Therefore, the use of tobacco has been linked to be the wish to be a part of a group (White 2009). Moreover, with increased restrictions on tobacco, users often find a common ground, which further heightens the camaraderie sense. Essentially, tobacco use is a social activity.
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Also, tobacco use has been used to portray an image of social defiance, which is especially common among young tobacco users. This characterized by using tobacco products because it is against the rules and unhealthy, which in turn reinforces the image of freedom, individualism, and rebellion (Burns 2009).
The use of tobacco products is prevalent in Southeast Asia. Its use can be traced back to the early Americas, wherein Native Americas used tobacco for diverse purposes such as medicinal and as a currency item. European settlers helped spread tobacco use to Europe and other parts of the world, and reached Asia by 1575. Tobacco is considered a valuable commodity because of self-medication values, enhances brain performance, and helps with weight control. Users of tobacco can be categorized into these desiring to maintain their body image, relieve stress, those who use only on social occasions, and among the poor and those having little education. The social relevance of tobacco use stems from its social rewards and the depiction of an image of social defiance.
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