I’m sure I’m not the only yerba mate drinker to have been asked by random people on the street “what’s that you’re smoking?” Indeed, the resemblance of a traditional mate gourd and bombilla to some sort of tobacco or other herbal smoking device is quite remarkable, particularly to the untrained eye. Of course we don’t use these implements to smoke our beloved yerba, instead opting to repeatedly steep the leaves in hot water until all of the flavour is gone.
Similarities do exist between yerba mate and smoking however, and the two are even known to be commonly enjoyed together in mate’s homeland, particularly amongst groups of men. In fact, one of the main reasons why the infamous Uruguayan study linking yerba mate to esophagus cancer undertaken during the 1970s has largely been discredited, is because little attention was payed to the sheer number of participants in the control group who regularly smoked tobacco whilst drinking yerba mate.
In the UK in 2015 17.2% of adults smoked cigarettes, down from 20.1% five years earlier in 2010.  As well as the smoking ban introduced in July 2007 which prohibited smoking in all confined public places, a more recent factor in helping people to “quit” is the rise of vaping using an electronic or “e-cigarette”. The most recent statistics show that around 2.9 million people in the UK are now vaping, a system which allows a fix of nicotine suspended in a glycerine formula. When heated using the e-cigarette, the liquid produces a vapour which is said to be far less harmful that tobacco smoke.
The bad news for British vapers, and especially those who are using these devices as a means of trying to kick their cigarette habit, is that new legislation has just come into force in the UK, limiting both the strength of e-liquids permissible for sale, as well as the size of liquid tanks on e-cigarettes.  Vaping advocates have slammed the legislation, saying that users will be forced to turn to the unregulated black market for higher strength liquids. Others have argued that with smaller tanks, vapers will need to carry around much more bottled liquid, and that the inconvenience of having to constantly refill will mean it much more likely that people turn back to the more convenient cigarette.
A more natural alternative?
A couple of days after this new legislation came into force I got into a conversation with a customer at the health shop where I work about using yerba mate as an aid for quitting smoking. The young man in question told me that a group of his friends had recently visited Argentina, and found that drinking mate regularly throughout the day lead to them smoking fewer cigarettes. Subsequently they had brought some yerba home for him to try and he had also found it to be helpful. Unfortunately as I had other customers to attend to I wasn’t able to enter into much more detail, but it got me thinking about how yerba mate might be useful in overcoming a nicotine craving.
As many reading will know already, yerba mate is traditionally smoked to give it a more full-bodied, and of course a smoky flavour. Levels of smoke vary from brand to brand, and usually drinkers develop a preference for how much smoke they enjoy. If you are trying to quit smoking, then substituting the flavour of tobacco for mate might just help to ward off cravings. Interestingly enough, the gentleman I spoke to was specifically after the unsmoked variety, as he told me the regular kind actually reminded him too much of cigarettes. If you fall into this category then perhaps consider trying the Kraus brand from Argentina, a house favourite here at UruShop.
Something that smokers often try to do when giving up is occupy their hands during their spare time to avoid temptation. Washing up immediately after a meal, for instance, is said to be a popular tactic, as this is a common time for lighting up. Yerba mate is a very tactile beverage when consumed traditionally in a gourd. Not only does the preparation involve a certain dexterity, but the refilling of the mate from the thermos, and even the passing around of the cup if drinking with friends or family, are all very hands-on activities.
As it is consumed through a straw known as a bombilla, yerba mate is unique in the world of hot beverages. The comparisons with smoking are therefore obvious, and sucking a warm liquid through a narrow straw could prove to be the perfect way of combating an addiction to cigarettes
Sources https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandlifeexpectancies/bulletins/adultsmokinghabitsingreatbritain/2015#smoking-data-for-the-uk-from-the-annual-population-survey-2010-to-2015-adults-aged-18-years-and-above  https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/20/vaping-new-laws-stifle-success-curbing-smoking