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. While more than 70 species of tobacco are known, the chief commercial crop is N. tabacum. The more potent variant N. rustica is also used around the world.
Tobacco contains the alkaloid nicotine, which is a stimulant, and harmala alkaloids.Dried tobacco leaves are mainly used for smoking in cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and flavored shisha tobacco. They can also be consumed as snuff, chewing tobacco, dipping tobacco and snus.
Tobacco use is a risk factor for many diseases, especially those affecting the heart, liver, and lungs, as well as many cancers. In 2008, the World Health Organization named tobacco as the world’s single greatest preventable cause of death.
Tobacco has long been used in the Americas, with some cultivation sites in Mexico dating back to 1400–1000 BC.Many Native American tribes have traditionally grown and used tobacco. Eastern North American tribes historically carried tobacco in pouches as a readily accepted trade item, as well as smoking it, both socially and ceremonially, such as to seal a peace treaty or trade agreement.In some populations, tobacco is seen as a gift from the Creator, with the ceremonial tobacco smoke carrying one’s thoughts and prayers to the Creator.
The types of tobacco include:
- Aromatic fire-cured is cured by smoke from open fires. In the United States, it is grown in northern middle Tennessee, central Kentucky, and Virginia. Fire-cured tobacco grown in Kentucky and Tennessee is used in some chewing tobaccos, moist snuff, some cigarettes, and as a condiment in pipe tobacco blends. Another fire-cured tobacco is Latakia, which is 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.
- Brightleaf tobacco is commonly known as “Virginia tobacco”, often regardless of the state where it is planted. Prior to the American Civil War, most tobacco grown in the US was fire-cured dark-leaf. Sometime after the War of 1812, demand for a milder, lighter, more aromatic tobacco arose. Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland all innovated with milder varieties of the tobacco plant. Farmers discovered that Bright leaf tobacco needs thin, starved soil, and those who could not grow other crops found that they could grow tobacco. Confederate soldiers 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 a national market had developed for the local crop.
- Burley tobacco is an air-cured tobacco used primarily for cigarette production. In the U.S., burley tobacco plants are started from pelletized seeds placed in polystyrene trays floated on a bed of fertilized water in March or April.
- Cavendish is more a process of curing and a method of cutting tobacco than a type. The processing and the cut are used to bring out the natural sweet taste in the tobacco. Cavendish can be produced from any tobacco type, but is usually one of, or a blend of Kentucky, Virginia, and burley, and is most commonly used for pipe tobacco and cigars.
- Criollo tobacco is primarily used in the making of cigars. It was, by most accounts, one of the original Cuban tobaccos that emerged around the time of Columbus.
- Dokha is a tobacco originally grown in Iran, mixed with leaves, bark, and herbs for smoking in a midwakh.
- Turkish tobacco is a sun-cured, highly aromatic, small-leafed variety (Nicotiana tabacum) grown in Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, and Macedonia. Originally grown in regions historically part of the Ottoman Empire, it is also known as “oriental”. Many of the early brands of cigarettes were made mostly or entirely of Turkish tobacco; today, its main use is in blends of pipe and especially cigarette tobacco (a typical American cigarette is a blend of bright Virginia, burley, and Turkish).
- Perique was developed in 1824 through the technique of pressure-fermentation of local tobacco by a farmer, Pierre Chenet. Considered the truffle of pipe tobaccos, it is used as a component in 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. It is typically blended with pure Virginia to lend spice, strength, and coolness to the blend.
- Shade tobacco is cultivated in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Early Connecticut colonists acquired from the Native Americans the habit of smoking tobacco in pipes, and began cultivating the plant commercially, though the Puritans referred to it as the “evil weed”. The Connecticut shade industry has weathered some major catastrophes, including a devastating hailstorm in 1929, and an epidemic of brown spot fungus in 2000, but is now in danger of disappearing altogether, given the increase in the value of land.
- White burley air-cured leaf was found to be more mild than other types of tobacco. In 1865, George Webb of Brown County, Ohio planted red burley seeds he had purchased, and found a few of the seedlings had a whitish, sickly look, which became white burley.
- Wild tobacco is native to the southwestern United States, Mexico, and parts of South America. Its botanical name is Nicotiana rustica.
- Y1 is a strain of tobacco cross-bred by Brown & Williamson in the 1970s to obtain an unusually high nicotine content. In the 1990s, the United States Food and Drug Administration used it as evidence that tobacco companies were intentionally manipulating the nicotine content of cigarettes.