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Tobacco plants
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Solanales
Family: Solanaceae
Genus: Nicotiana
N. acuminata
N. alata
N. attenuata
N. clevelandii
N. excelsior
N. forgetiana
N. glauca
N. glutinosa
N. langsdorffii
N. longiflora
N. obtusifolia
N. paniculata
N. plumbagifolia
N. quadrivalvis
N. repanda
N. rustica
N. × sanderae
N. suaveolens
N. sylvestris
N. tabacum
N. tomentosa
Ref: ITIS 30562 (http://www.itis.usda.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=30562)
as of 2002-08-28
Tobacco is a broad-leafed plant of the nightshade family, indigenous to North America, whose dried and cured leaves are often smoked 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 a Native American word for the pipe in which tobacco was smoked.

Tobacco contains nicotine, a mild stimulant that is highly addictive. All of the mentioned means of consuming tobacco result in the absorption of nicotine in varying amounts into the user's bloodstream.


Native Americans smoked tobacco before Europeans arrived in America, and early European settlers 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 of New England. The notion that "America was built on tobacco" is far from inaccurate; 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.

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



Fire-cured smoking tobacco is a robust variety of tobacco used as a condimental for pipe blends. It is cured by smoking it over fires. In the United States, it is grown in Missouri and northern Virginia. Latakia is a variety of N. rustica that is smoked over camel-dung fires in Cyprus and Syria.

Fire-cured tobacco grown in Kentucky and Tennessee is used in moist snuff.

Bright 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.

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 from seeds from those plants, which brought a premium at auction. The air-cured leaf was found to be mild tasting and more absorbant than any other variety. It thus became the main component in chewing tobacco, American blend pipe tobacco, and American-style cigarettes.

See also : Tobacco Mosaic Virus

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 snuff is intended to be snorted up the nose, and is often scented or mentholated. 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 and Levi Garret. Until the early 20th century, snuff dipping was popular in the United States among rural women, who would often use sweet barkless twigs to apply it to their gums.

The second, and more popular, 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. Moist snuff is made from fire-cured Kentucky burley tobacco, that is ground, sweetened, and aged by the factor. Prominent North American brands are Copenhagen, Skoal, and Kodiak. American moist snuff tend to be dipped.

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

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 occasionaly 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 Day's Work and Cannonball.

Scrap, or looseleaf chewing tobacco, was originally the excess of plug manufacturing. It is 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.


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.

Sources Tilley's The Bright Tobaco Industry 1860-1929
John Graves' "Tobacco that is not Smoked" in From a Limestone Ledge (the sections on snuff and chewing tobacco)
That history of the Universal Leaf corporation (info about role of Danville-Richmond railroad in spread of Bright tobacco).
Killebrew and Myrick Tobacco Leaf 1906


  • more biology of the plant - growing conditions, etc.
  • medical - epidemiology of lung cancer and heart disease, why it's carcinogenic, more on nicotine & addictiveness
  • how is it cured/prepared for different uses?
  • history - tobacco trade, triangular trade, role in development of the american south
  • contemporary politics - anti-tobacco lawsuits & legislation
  • find attribution for the snuff poem -- see John Graves's essay on snuff in From a Limestone Ledge
  • history of varieties -- in US, colonial orinoco & sweet-scented. Also list USDA types and where they're grown. See www.ustobaccofarmer.com for a nice map.
  • agriculture
  • revise and rephrase
  • tie down sources formatting

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