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Tobacco flakes, sliced from pressed plugs
Product nameTobacco
Source plant(s)Nicotiana
Part(s) of plantLeaf
Geographic originSouth America
Active ingredientsNicotine, harmine
Legal status
  • AU: Unscheduled
  • CA: Unscheduled
  • UK: 16+ (Public Possession) 18+ (Purchase)
  • US: 18+ only in most states[1]
  • UN: Unscheduled
  • EU: Unscheduled
  • See tobacco control
A historic kiln in Myrtleford, Victoria, Australia
Basma tobacco leaves drying in the sun at Pomak village in Xanthi, Greece

Tobacco is a product prepared from the leaves of the tobacco plant by curing them. The plant is part of the genus Nicotiana and of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family.


Native Americans used tobacco before Europeans arrived in the Americas. The earliest know use of tobacco comes from nicotine residue from a pipe in the Southeastern United States. It is Radiocarbon dated at 1685-1530 BC. [2] Europeans in the Americas learned to smoke and brought it back to Europe, where it became very popular. At that time tobacco was usually smoked in a pipe.

The Europeans who moved to America started to farm tobacco so that they could sell it in Europe. This became one of the main causes of the African slave trade. In 1610 a European man called John Rolfe arrived in the American state of Virginia and set up a tobacco farm which made him very rich. Rolfe was the first non-native farmer to use nicotiana tabacum, which is the type of tobacco most commonly smoked today. He also married Pocahontas, a Native American woman who became famous when she went to live in London.

In the 17th and 18th centuries tobacco made farmers very rich and towns quickly grew in the states of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. In 1883 one third of United States tax money came from tobacco.

In 1864 the first American tobacco factory opened to produce 20 million cigarettes annually. By 1964 the cigarette contained over 500 added chemicals. Today tobacco manufacturers are still not required by law to list the 500+ ingredients.

Tobacco and health

Tobacco cigarette

Tobacco users (especially smokers) risk many very serious and often deadly illnesses, such as cancer, strokes, heart disease, and lung disease. The United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes tobacco use as "the single most important preventable risk to human health in developed countries and an important cause of premature (early) death worldwide". There are over 4800 chemicals in tobacco, including arsenic. Sixty-four of them are known to cause cancer.

Countries that grow tobacco

Top Ten Tobacco Producers - 2005
(million metric ton)
Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg China 2.51
Flag of Brazil.svg Brazil 0.88
Flag of India.svg India 0.60
Flag of the United States.svg United States 0.29
Flag of Indonesia.svg Indonesia 0.14
Flag of Turkey.svg Turkey 0.14
Flag of Greece.svg Greece 0.12
Flag of Argentina.svg Argentina 0.12
Flag of Italy.svg Italy 0.11
Flag of Pakistan.svg Pakistan 0.08
World Total 6.38
UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO)


  1. "Youth Tobacco Prevention: Underage Prevention Laws". "As of August 2014, all but eight states had laws prohibiting minors from purchasing tobacco: Alaska, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and West Virginia. All but eleven states had youth tobacco possession laws in place. These are Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. There are still six states which prohibit youth from possessing tobacco, but allow for an exemption where parents or guardians give permission for that possession: Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, and Texas." 
  2. Camody, S. et al., 2018, "Evidence of tobacco from a Late Archaic smoking tube recovered from the Flint River site in southeastern North America," Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 21: 904-910.
  3. "FAOSTAT". Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'Module:Category handler/data' not found.Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'Module:Category handler/data' not found.[dead link]