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“Tobacco! Tobacco!”: Exporting New Habits to Siberia and Russian America

Matthew Romaniello

Keywords: Alaska; commodities; consumption; drug trade; Kamchatka; trade networks

Abstract

Russia transitioned from enforcing the world’s longest ban on importing tobacco in the seventeenth century to legalizing the product at the beginning of the eighteenth and ultimately becoming one of the world’s largest producers of tobacco by the nineteenth century. A part of this process neglected by historians is the way in which Russia distributed tobacco among the indigenous communities in Siberia, Kamchatka, and Russian America, creating new consumers where none had existed. This article discusses both the process by which Russia exported tobacco to its frontier and the manner in which tobacco consumption was localized among its diverse populations. Tobacco was not a single product experienced the same way throughout the empire but rather became a marker of difference, demonstrating the multiple communities and trade networks that influenced the nature of Russia’s colonial presence in Asia and the North Pacific.

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