From Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia
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Starting smoking

A young man was traditionally only allowed to smoke at home and in the presence of his father after the former came back from military service. Even though this was the general rule, young men were sometimes given permission to do so when they turned eighteen.

In some parts of Álava (Bernedo, San Román de San Millán, Apodaca, Apellániz), a young man was allowed to start to smoke when he joined a cuadrilla (closed circle of friends) or was accepted as a mozo (youth), which usually happened when he was around 18, when he began on go to the village’s dances on Sundays or to festivities and to be involved in celebrating the patron saint's day and St. Agatha’s Day. When he joined the cuadrilla, he had to pay for quarts of wine for the other youths and the young man usually smoked a cigar that day.

A young man only smoked in front of his father when the latter gave his permission, which usually consisted of offering the youth a cigarette.

Young people usually begin to smoke to appear older and as they want to be like or imitate their elders. Later on, the age that young men were allowed to smoke was lowered and they generally started at around 15.

However, as already indicated, young people always started smoking before being given permission by their fathers and would have a cigarette on the quiet. Tobacco substitutes were frequently smoked in the past and more recently, young people would buy loose cigarettes from the store, which were shared among the members of the group to get the most out of them. When someone smoked a whole cigarette, his friends would ask for the pibi or cigarette butt to get the last few puffs out of it.

Adults always felt the need to tell a child off who they caught smoking. Nowadays, only the child’s parents or close relatives are likely to say anything.

Even though the parents were aware that they children were smoking in secret, they never gave their permission until their offspring reached the aforementioned ages.

Girls and women never smoked and it would it have been looked upon with disapproval if they had done so. In some respects, smoking was considered a sign of manliness. However, young girls would sometimes take up this habit, in the same way as their male playmates, using tobacco substitutes, but would then stop.

From the 1950s onwards, more and more women gradually took up smoking and the number of female smokers progressively increased. In general, young women started out smoking Virginia tobacco, before moving on to the cheaper dark tobacco. Women do not usually smoke cigars or pipes. Nowadays, girls begin to smoke on the quiet at the same age as boys.

Tobacco substitutes

The leaves and stalks of different plants were smoked until tobacco became an easily-available product, and particularly when there were shortages. If the leaves and stalks were not already dry when collected, they had to be first dried and then, in some cases, crumbled up by hand.

The plants used as tobacco substitutes included a climbing plant, whose dry stalk, as it was very porous, made it a good option to be used as a cigarette, with the only drawback that the smoke would sting slightly. The stalks of this plant were more usually smoked by children when they were playing than adults.

Potato leaves, patatorria, were also smoked. They were dried and then rubbed by hand to crumble them up. The dried leaves were usually mixed with a little tobacco to smoke them.

Corn silk, artobizarrak, was also used, when the corn was ripe, or the silk was left to be air-dried hanging in the loft. The silk was shredded before being used.

The practice of rolling those tobacco substitutes using dried husks from the corn cobs, when there cigarette papers were not readily available, was very widespread Specifically, the thinnest husks nearest the grains were used.

Growing and producing tobacco at home

Tobacco was more or less successfully planted in the family vegetable garden in some areas the past and to try to overcome shortages. In general, the plants were sown on an experimental basis and the lack of knowledge about how to then process the crop meant the final product was poor in quality and growing tobacco fell out of fashion overtime. The heyday coincided with the periods of greatest shortages, during the post-war and the rationing after the Spanish Civil War. However, prior to that event, there had already been attempts in some areas which also coincided with periods of scarcity on the market.