The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







N. acuminata
N. alata
N. attenuata
N. bigelovil
N. clevelandii
N. debneyi
N. excelsior
N. exigua
N. forgetiana
N. glauca
N. glutinosa
N. kawakamii
N. knightiana
N. langsdorffii
N. longiflora
N. obtusifolia
N. otephora
N. paniculata
N. plumbagifolia
N. quadrivalvis
N. repanda
N. rustica
N. × sanderae
N. suaveolens
N. sylvestris
N. tabacum
N. tomentosa
Ref: ITIS 30562
as of 2002-08-28

Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L.) is a broad-leafed plant of the nightshade family, indigenous to North and South America, whose dried and cured leaves are often smoked (see tobacco smoking) in the form of a cigar or cigarette, or in a smoking pipe, or in a water pipe or a hookah. Tobacco is also chewed, "dipped" (placed between the cheek and gum), and consumed as finely powdered snuff tobacco, which is sniffed into the nose. The word "tobacco" is an Anglicization of the Spanish word "tabaco", whose roots are unclear; it is thought to derive from the Native American word "tabago," for a Y-shaped pipe used in sniffing tobacco powder.

Tobacco contains nicotine, an organic alkaloid and powerful neurotoxin, particularly to insects. All means of consuming tobacco result in the absorption of nicotine in varying amounts into the user's bloodstream, and over time the development of a tolerance and dependence. Absorption quantity, frequency, and speed seem to have a direct relationship with how strong a dependence and tolerance, if any, might be created. A lethal dose of nicotine is contained in as little as one half of a cigar or three cigarettes; however, only a fraction of the nicotine contained in these products is actually released into the smoke, and most clinically significant cases of nicotine poisoning are the result of concentrated forms of the compound used as insecticides.

Major hazards of tobacco use, however, include carcinogenic compounds in tobacco and tobacco smoke. Many jurisdictions have enacted smoking bans in an effort to minimize possible damage to public health due to tobacco smoking.



Native Americans smoked tobacco before Europeans arrived in America, and early European settlers in America adopted the habit and brought it back to Europe with them, where it became hugely popular.

Since the beginnings of colonial America, long before the creation of the United States, tobacco, almost entirely on its own, fueled the colonization in the future American South. The notion that "America was built on tobacco" is quite accurate; and the initial colonial expansion, fueled by the desire to increase tobacco production, caused the first colonial conflicts with Native Americans, and also soon led to the use of African slaves for cheap labor.

In 1609, John Rolfe arrived at the Jamestown Settlement in Virginia. He was the first man to successfully raise tobacco at Jamestown. The tobacco raised in Virginia at that time, Nicotiana Rustica, was not to the liking of the Europeans, but Rolfe had brought some seed for Nicotiana Tabacum with him from Bermuda. Shortly after arriving, his first wife died, and he married Pocahontas, a daughter of Chief Powhatan. Although most of the settlers wouldn't touch the tobacco crop, Rolfe was able to make his fortune farming it. When he left for England with Pocahontas, he was wealthy. When Rolfe returned to Jamestown following Pocahontas's death in England, he continued to improve the quality of tobacco. By 1620, 40,000 pounds of tobacco were shipped to England. By the time John Rolfe died in 1622, Jamestown was thriving as a producer of tobacco and Jamestown's population would top 4,000. Tobacco led to the importation of the colony's first black slaves as well as women from England in 1619.

The importation of tobacco into Europe was not without resistance and controversy, even in the 17th century. King James I of England (James VI of Scotland) published a famous polemic titled A Counterblaste to Tobacco in 1604. In his essay, the king denounced tobacco use as "[a] custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomelesse." In that same year, an English statute was enacted that placed a heavy protective tariff on every pound of tobacco brought into England.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, tobacco continued to be the "cash crop" of the Virginia Colony. Large tobacco warehouses filled the areas near the wharfs of new thriving towns such as Richmond and Manchester at the fall line (head of navigation) on the James River, and Petersburg on the Appomattox River.

Until 1883, tobacco excise tax accounted for one third of internal revenue collected by the United States government.



Tobacco seeds are started very early in the year. The seeds are scattered onto the surface of the soil, as their germination is activated by light. In colonial Virginia, seedbeds were fertilized with wood ash or animal manure (frequently powdered horse manure). Seedbeds were then covered with branches to protect the young plants from frost damage. These plants were left to grow until around April.

In the nineteenth century, young plants came under increasing attack from the flea beetle (epitrix cucumeris or epitrix pubescens ), causing destruction of half the United States tobacco crop in 1876. In the years afterward, many experiments were attempted and discussed to control the flea beetle. By 1880 it was discovered that replacing the branches with a frame covered by thin cloth would effectively protect plants from the beetle. This practice spread until it became ubiquitous in the 1890s.

Today, in the United States, unlike other countries, tobacco is often fertilized with the mineral apatite in order to partially starve the plant for nitrogen, which changes the taste. This accounts for the different flavor of American cigarettes from those available in other countries. There is, however, some suggestion that this may have adverse health effects due to the polonium content of apatite.


After the plants have reached a certain height, they are transplanted into fields. This was originally done by making a relatively large hole in the tilled earth with a tobacco peg, then placing the small plant in the hole. Various mechanical tobacco planters were invented throughout the late 19th and early 20th century to automate this process, making a hole, fertilizing it, and guiding a plant into the hole with one motion.

Topping and suckering

Once the tobacco plants are growing well, they will begin to produce shoots from the joint of each leaf with the stalk. These secondary shoots — known as "suckers" — are undesirable as they divert energy that could be directed into the leaves. They are removed in a process known as "suckering" (sometimes spelled "succoring" in older writing). Generally this is done by hand several times during the season. Recently anti-suckering compounds have come into use.

At a certain stage of maturity, the plant will produce a flower cluster from its tip, as well as the tips of any suckers that remain on the plant. In order to divert more energy into the leaves, the plant is "topped" — the top is cut off.


Tobacco is harvested in one of two ways. In the oldest method, the entire plant is harvested at once by cutting off the stalk at the ground with a curved knife. In the nineteenth century, bright tobacco began to be harvested by pulling individual leaves off the stalk as they ripened. The leaves ripen from the ground upwards, so a field of tobacco may go through several "pullings" before the tobacco is entirely harvested, and the stalks may be turned into the soil.


Cut plants or pulled leaves are immediately transferred to tobacco barns, where they will be cured. Curing methods varies with the type of tobacco grown, and tobacco barn design varies accordingly. Air-cured tobacco is hung in well-ventilated barns and allowed to dry over a period of days. Fire-cured tobacco is hung in large barns where smoldering fires of hardwoods are kept burning. Flue-cured tobacco was originally strung onto tobacco sticks, which were hung from tier-poles in large cubical barns (Aus: kilns, also traditionally called Oasts). These barns have flues which run from externally-fed fire boxes to the roof, heat-curing the tobacco without exposing it to smoke.

Post-cure processing

After tobacco is cured, it is moved from the curing barn into a storage area for processing. If whole plants were cut, the leaves are removed from the tobacco stalks in a process called stripping. For both cut and pulled tobacco, the leaves are then sorted into different grades. In colonial times, the tobacco was then "prized" into hogsheads for transportation. In bright tobacco regions, prizing was replaced by stacking wrapped "hands" into loose piles to be sold at auction. Today, most cured tobacco is baled before sales under contract.



Fire-cured smoking tobacco is a robust variety of tobacco used as a condimental for pipe blends. It is cured by smoking over gentle fires. In the United States, it is grown in the western part of Tennessee, Western Kentucky and in Virginia. Latakia is a produced from oriental varieties of N. tabacum. The leaves are cured and smoked over smoldering fires of local hardwoods and aromatic shrubs in Cyprus and Syria. Latakia has a pronounced flavor and a very distinctive aroma, and is used in the so-called Balkan and English-style pipe tobacco blends.

Fire-cured tobacco grown in Kentucky and Tennessee is used in some chewing tobaccos, moist snuff, some cigarettes and as a condiment leaf in pipe tobacco blends. It has a rich, slightly floral taste, and adds body and aroma to the blend.

Image:Tobac grnhouse8980.JPG

Mowing young tobacco
in greenhouse of half million plants

Hemingway, South Carolina

Brightleaf tobacco

Prior to the American Civil War, the tobacco grown in the US was almost entirely fire-cured dark-leaf. This was planted in fertile lowlands, used a robust variety of leaf, and was fire cured or air cured.

Sometime after the War of 1812, demand for a milder, lighter, more aromatic tobacco arose. Ohio and Maryland both innovated quite a bit with milder varieties of the tobacco plant. Farmers around the country experimented with different curing processes. But the breakthrough didn't come until 1854.

It had been noticed for centuries that sandy, highland soil produced thinner, weaker plants. Abisha Slade, of Caswell County, North Carolina had a good deal of infertile, sandy soil, and planted the new "gold-leaf" varieties on it. When Stephen, Abisha's slave, used charcoal instead of wood to cure the crop, the first real "bright" tobacco was produced.

News spread through the area pretty quickly. The worthless sandy soil of the Appalachian piedmont was suddenly profitable, and people rapidly developed flue-curing techniques, a more efficient way of smoke-free curing. By the outbreak of the War, the town of Danville, Virginia actually had developed a bright-leaf market for the surrounding area in Caswell County, North Carolina and Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

Danville was also the main railway head for Confederate soldiers going to the front. These brought bright tobacco with them from Danville to the lines, traded it with each other and Union soldiers, and developed quite a taste for it. At the end of the war, the soldiers went home and suddenly there was a national market for the local crop. Caswell and Pittsylvania counties were the only two counties in the South that experienced an increase in total wealth after the war.

Image:Tobacco blossom 1580.JPG

Tobacco blossom: longtitudinal section
Hemingway, South Carolina,

White burley

In 1864, George Webb of Brown County, Ohio planted Red Burley seeds he had purchased, and found that a few of the seedlings had a whitish, sickly look. He transplanted them to the fields anyway, where they grew into mature plants but retained their light color. The cured leaves had an exceedingly fine texture and were exhibited as a curiosity at the market in Cincinnati. The following year he planted ten acres (40,000 m²) from seeds from those plants, which brought a premium at auction. The air-cured leaf was found to be mild tasting and more absorbent than any other variety. White Burley, as it was later called, became the main component in chewing tobacco, American blend pipe tobacco, and American-style cigarettes. The white part of the name is seldom used today, since red burley, a dark air-cured variety of the mid-1800s, no longer exists.

Shade tobacco

It is not well known that the northern US state of Connecticut is also one of the important tobacco-growing regions of the country. However, long before Europeans arrived in the area, Native Americans harvested wild tobacco plants that grew along the banks of the Connecticut River. Today, the Connecticut River valley north of Hartford, Connecticut is known as Tobacco Valley , and the fields and drying sheds are visible to travelers on the road to and from Bradley Field , the major Connecticut airport. The tobacco grown here is known as shade tobacco , and is used as outer wrappers for some of the world's finest cigars.

Early Connecticut colonists acquired from the Native Americans the habit of smoking tobacco in pipes and began cultivating the plant commercially, even though the Puritans referred to it as the "evil weed". The plant was outlawed in Connecticut in 1650, but in the 1800s as cigar smoking began to be popular, tobacco farming became a major industry, employing farmers, laborers, local youths, southern African Americans, and migrant workers.

Working conditions varied from pleasant summer work for students, to backbreaking exploitation of migrants. Each tobacco plant yields only 18 leaves useful as cigar wrappers, and each leaf requires a great deal of individual manual attention after harvesting, some of which must be carried out in the drying sheds , where the temperature exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

In 1921, Connecticut tobacco production peaked, at 31,000 acres (125 km²) under cultivation. Since then, the rise of cigarette smoking and the decline of cigar smoking has caused a corresponding decline in the demand for shade tobacco, reaching a minimum in 1992 of 2,000 acres (8 km²) under cultivation. Since then, however, cigar smoking has become more popular again, and in 1997 tobacco farming had risen to 4,000 acres (16 km²). The industry has weathered some major catastrophes, including a devastating hailstorm in 1929, and an epidemic of brown spot fungus in 2000.

There is a Luddy/Taylor Connecticut Valley Tobacco Museum in Windsor, Connecticut.


Perhaps the most strongly-flavored of all tobaccos is the Perique, from Saint James Parish, Louisiana. When the Acadians made their way into this region in 1776, the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes were cultivating a variety of tobacco with a distinctive flavor. A farmer called Pierre Chenet is credited with first turning this local tobacco into the Perique in 1824 through the technique of pressure-fermentation.

The tobacco plants are manually kept suckerless, and pruned to exactly 12 leaves, through their early growth. In late June, when the leaves are a dark, rich green and the plants are 24-30 inches (600 to 750 mm) tall, the whole plant is harvested in the late evening and hung to dry in a sideless curing barn. Once the leaves have partially dried, but while still supple (usually less than 2 weeks in the barn), any remaining dirt is removed and the leaves are moistened with water and stemmed by hand. The leaves are then rolled into "torquettes" of approximately 1 pound (450 g) and packed into hickory whiskey barrels. The tobacco is then kept under pressure using oak blocks and massive screw jacks, forcing nearly all the air out of the still-moist leaves. Approximately once a month, the pressure is released, and each of the torquettes is "worked" by hand to permit a little air back into the tobacco. After a year of this treatment, the Perique is ready for consumption, although it may be kept fresh under pressure for many years. Extended exposure to air degrades the particular character of the Perique. The finished tobacco is dark brown, nearly black, very moist with a fruity, slightly vinegary aroma.

Considered the truffle of pipe tobaccos, the Perique is used as a component of many blended pipe tobaccos, but is too strong to be smoked pure. At one time, the freshly moist Perique was also chewed, but none is now sold for this purpose. Less than 16 acres (65,000 m²) of this crop remain in cultivation, most by a single farmer called Percy Martin, in Grande Pointe, Louisiana. For reasons unknown, the particular flavour and character of the Perique can only be acquired on a small triangle of Saint James Parish, less than 3 by 10 miles (5 by 16 km). Although at its peak, Saint James Parish was producing around 20 tons of the Perique a year, output is now only a few barrelsful.

While traditionally a pipe tobacco (and still available from some specialist tobacconists), the Perique may now also be found in the Perique cigarettes of Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co., in an approximately 1 part to 5 blend with lighter tobaccos. A similar tobacco, based on pressure-fermented Kentucky tobacco is available by the name Acadian Green River Perique.

Tobacco products


Some it chew,
Some it smoke,
Some it up the nose do poke!

Snuff is a generic term for fine-ground smokeless tobacco products. Originally the term referred only to dry snuff, a fine tan dust popular mainly in the eighteenth century. This is often called "Scotch Snuff", a folk-etymology derivation of the scorching process used to dry the cured tobacco by the factor.

European (dry) snuff is intended to be sniffed up the nose. Snuff is not "snorted" due to the fact that you do not want the snuff to get past the nose i.e.; into sinuses, throat or lungs. European snuff comes in several varieties: Plain, Toast (fine ground - very dry), "Medicated" (menthol, camphor, eucalyptus, etc.), Scented and Schmalzler (a German variety.) The major brand names of European snuff are: Bernards (Germany), Fribourg & Treyer (UK), Gawith (UK), Gawith Hoggarth (UK), Hedges (UK), Lotzbeck (Germany), McChrystal's (UK), Pöschl (Germany) and Wilson's of Sharrow (UK).

With the ever increasing smoking restrictions snuff is being "rediscovered" as a cheaper, healthier form of tobacco that can be enjoyed in places where smoking is prohibited.

Snuff has even been found to be beneficial in some cases of hay fever due to the fact that the snuff may prevent allergins from getting to the mucus membrane within the nose.

American snuff is much stronger, and is intended to be dipped. It comes in two varieties -- "sweet" and "salty", and popular brands are Tube Rose , Levi Garrett , Red Man . Until the early 20th century, snuff dipping was popular in the United States among rural people, who would often use sweet barkless twigs to apply it to their gums.

The second, and more popular in North America, variety of snuff is moist snuff. This is occasionally referred to as "snoose " derived from the Scandinavian word for snuff, "snus". Like the word, the origins of moist snuff are Scandinavian, and the oldest American brands indicate that by their names. American Moist snuff is made from dark fire-cured tobacco that is ground, sweetened, and aged by the factory. Swedish snus is different in that it is made from steam-cured tobacco, rather than fire-cured, and its health effects are markedly different, with studies showing dramatically lower rates of cancer and other tobacco-related health problems than cigarettes, American "Chewing Tobacco", Indian Gutka or African varieties. Prominent North American brands are Copenhagen , Skoal, Chisholm, and Kodiak . Prominent Swedish brands are Swedish Match, Ettan, and Tre Ankare . American moist snuff tends to be dipped.

Some modern smokeless tobacco brands, such as Kodiak, have an aggressive nicotine delivery. This is accomplished with a higher dose of nicotine than cigarettes, a high pH level (which helps nicotine enter the blood stream faster), and a high portion of unprotonated (free base) nicotine.

In the Scandinavian countries, moist snuff come either in loose powder form or powder packaged in small bags, suitable for placing inside the upper lip. In the case of the unpackaged form, the snus will be baked and pressed into a small ball or ovoid either by hand or by use of a special tool. Prepackaded snuff is therefore called "portion snuff", whereas the loose powder variant is called "baking snuff".

Chewing tobacco

Mail Pouch Barn Ad
A bit of Americana in Southern Ohio

Chewing is one of the oldest ways of consuming tobacco leaves. Native Americans in both North and South America chewed the leaves of the plant, frequently mixed with lime. Modern chewing tobacco is produced in three forms: twist, plug, and scrap.

Twist is the oldest form. One to three high-quality leaves are braided and twisted into a rope while green, and then are cured in the same manner as other tobacco. Until recently this was done by farmers for their personal consumption in addition to other tobacco intended for sale. Modern twist is occasionally lightly sweetened. It is still sold commercially, but rarely seen outside of Appalachia. Popular brands are Mammoth Cave, Moore's Red Leaf, and Cumberland Gap. Users cut a piece off the twist and chew it, expectorating.

Plug chewing tobacco is made by pressing together cured tobacco leaves in a sweet (often molasses-based) syrup. Originally this was done by hand, but since the second half of the 19th century leaves were pressed between large tin sheets. The resulting sheet of tobacco is cut into plugs. Like twist, consumers cut a piece off of the plug to chew. Major brands are Days O Work and Cannonball.

Scrap, or looseleaf chewing tobacco, was originally the excess of plug manufacturing. It's sweetened like plug tobacco, but sold loose in bags rather than a plug. Looseleaf is by far the most popular form of chewing tobacco. Popular brands are Red Man, Beechnut, and Mail Pouch. Looseleaf chewing tobacco can also be dipped.

During the peak of popularity of chewing tobacco in the Western United States in the late 19th century, spittoons were a common device for users to spit into.


Gutka is a confection-like tobacco product manufactured and used mainly in India. It contains sweeteners and flavorings and is marketed to children. It is used by placing it between one's cheek and gums.

Creamy Snuff

Creamy Snuff is a tobacco paste, consisting of tobacco, clove oil, glycerin, spearmint, menthol, and camphor, and sold in a toothpaste tube. It is marketed mainly to women in India, and is known by the brand names Ipco (made by Asha Industries ), Denobac , Tona , Ganesh. According to the U.S NIH-sponsored 2002 Smokeless Tobacco Fact Sheet, it is marketed as a dentifrice . The same factsheet also mentions that it is "often used to clean teeth. The manufacturer recommends letting the paste linger in the mouth before rinsing."


  • Breen, T. H. (1985). Tobacco Culture. Princeton Univerisity Press. ISBN 0-691-00596-6. Source on tobacco culture in eighteenth-century Virginia pp. 46-55
  • W.K. Collins and S.N. Hawks. "Principles of Flue-Cured Tobacco Production" 1st Edition, 1993
  • Fuller, R. Reese (Spring 2003). Perique, the Native Crop. Louisiana Life.
  • Graves, John. "Tobacco that is not Smoked" in From a Limestone Ledge (the sections on snuff and chewing tobacco) ISBN 0394512383
  • That history of the Universal Leaf corporation (info about role of Danville-Richmond railroad in spread of Bright tobacco).
  • Killebrew, J. B. and Myrick, Herbert (1909). Tobacco Leaf: Its Culture and Cure, Marketing and Manufacture. Orange Judd Company. Source for flea beetle typology (p. 243)
  • Poche, L. Aristee (2002). Perique tobacco: Mystery and history.
  • Tilley, Nannie May. The Bright Tobacco Industry 1860-1929 ISBN 0405047282. Source on flea beetle prevention (pp. 39-43), and history of flue-cured tobacco

See also

External links

Last updated: 10-14-2005 17:13:04
The contents of this article are licensed from under the GNU Free Documentation License. How to see transparent copy