During the voyages of Christopher Columbus across the Atlantic Ocean Indians presented him and his people with tobacco leaves which were used by natives for smoking, chewing, and for medical purposes. Columbus himself did not appreciate the plant, but one of his Spanish crewmen, Rodrigo de Jerez, picked up the tobacco smoking habit. He is credited with being the first European smoker.
When he returned to Europe, he introduced the habit to his home town, Ayamonte. The smoke surrounding him frightened his neighbours: the Spanish Inquisition imprisoned him for his "sinful and infernal" habits, because "only Devil could give a man the power to exhale smoke from his mouth". When he was released seven years later, smoking tobacco had caught on.
World No Tobacco Day is celebrated around the world every year on May 31.
This yearly celebration informs the public on the dangers of using tobacco, the business practices of tobacco companies, what WHO is doing to fight the tobacco epidemic, and what people around the world can do to claim their right to health and healthy living and to protect future generations.
The Member States of the World Health Organization created World No Tobacco Day in 1987 to draw global attention to the tobacco epidemic and the preventable death and disease it causes. In 1987, the World Health Assembly passed Resolution WHA40.38, calling for 7 April 1988 to be a "a world no-smoking day." In 1988, Resolution WHA42.19 was passed, calling for the celebration of World No Tobacco Day, every year on 31 May.
Resolution 42.19 of the 42nd session of WHO. Twelfth plenary meeting, 17 May 1989 - Committee A, second report.