Opium smoking was one of the recreational activities common among the male dominated Chinese communities across regional New South Wales. Along with gambling, it became a focus for criticism from European-Australians. It was perceived as a vice which was used by the Chinese to corrupt and seduce young women and which was part of an illicit and profitable trade. The critics generally failed to observe that opium was a legal substance until the early twentieth century, and that it was a component in a number of commonly administered medicines.
The images of opium as an exotic and evil substance used primarily by Chinese are a part of surviving popular imaginings about the Chinese presence. Hence, in local museums, any exotic looking pipe is often labeled an opium pipe and some of the more mundane pieces of opium smoking paraphernalia are not recognized for what they are.
" Opium smoking began spreading slowly but steadily in China from early
in the 18th Century. It grew through the 19th Century to the point that by the
end of the century it became a nearly universal practice among males in some
regions. While estimates vary, it appears that most smokers consumed six grams
or less daily. Addicted smokers were occasionally found among those smoking
as little as three grams daily, but more often addicted smokers reported use
of about 12 grams a day or more. An individual smoking twelve grams of opium
probably ingests about 80 mg. of morphine. Thirty mg. of morphine daily may
induce some withdrawal signs, while 60 mg. daily are clearly addicting. While
testimony varied widely, it appears likely that most opium smokers were not
disabled by their practice. This appears to be the case today, too, among those
peoples in southeast Asia who have continued to smoke opium. There appear to
be social and perhaps psychophysiological forces which work toward limiting
the liabilities of drug use. "
- The observation that opium could be smoked was probably first made late in the 16th or early 17th century, in China (Spence, 1975:147).
Opium smoking in the Frontier Province of Pakistan
The history of opium smoking is centuries old in the areas now forming Pakistan. Until the 1950s, it was not a crime to indulge in opium smoking in this part of the world. The Punjab Opium Smoking Act of 1923, which was later adopted by the North Western Frontier Province, did not prohibit the smoking of opium. The Act only outlawed opium smoking when three or more persons were assembled.
Opium is traditionally smoked in dens, which are called " chandu khanas" in the local dialect. The den is usually a dark, dingy and sickly stinking place located inconspicuously in back alleys where one of the two preparations of opium - chandu or madhak is smoked. Only the lower strata of the society visit it. The opium smoker is known as " chandu baz" in the common parlance.
Chanduis prepared by boiling opium in water and evaporating its moisture. During the boiling process, a substance called " sokhta", which comprises the carbon deposits accumulated in the smoking pipe, is also added. When the preparation becomes paste-like, it is ready for use. The smoker lies down and holds a pipe, which is connected to a hollow ball with an aperture on a burning lamp in such a position that the flame just touches the aperture where a small quantity of is held with a needle. He then puffs the fumes. For greater satisfaction, chronic smokers also lick some chandu immediately before smoking.Characteristics of smokers in the Frontier Province of Pakistan
The youngest smokers noticed at these dens were both ten years of age and the oldest one 90 years of age. The greatest number of smokers (33.18 per cent) belonged to the 25-34 age group; over 76 per cent of the smokers were found to be within the age group 25-54.
The largest number of smokers i.e. 251 started smoking at a very young age (86 started between 10 and 15 years and 165 between 16 and 20 years). Almost an equally large group, i.e. 249, started smoking opium in the age bracket of 21-30 years. Although few smokers publicly admitted or regarded this to be an important motivation, excise officials who have been concerned with the opium smoking dens over a considerable period of time categorically labeled homosexuality as a major reason for the introduction of the young to opium smoking.