//Tobacco Explained: A Complete Guide to One of the Most Addictive Substances
Tobacco Explained: A Complete Guide to One of the Most Addictive Substances 2018-04-17T16:39:10+00:00

Tobacco Explained: A Complete Guide to One of the Most Addictive Substances

What Is Tobacco? Tobacco comes from a leafy plant that tends to grow in warm tropical areas. It is famously grown all over the Caribbean, where the warm, sunny conditions make for a perfect growing climate. Tobacco is usually smoked as a Nicotinic stimulant and is mostly processed, rolled and dried before being smoked.  

About The Plant

tobacco growingTobacco belongs to the nightshade family of plants, and are wildly varied. Some, like potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and some peppers, are common food items for humans, while others, like petunias, are ornamental.

Nightshade plants contain high levels of alkaloids. In nature, these alkaloids work as a pesticide, and are a natural defense against being eaten. The nicotine in tobacco is an alkaloid. Alkaloids can also be toxic or deadly to humans.

Although there are many types of tobacco plant out there, only two types are used commercially to produce tobacco products like cigarettes and cigars. Nicotiana Tabacum is the most commonly used one, but Nicotiana Rustica is harvested is well. Many different varieties of tobacco used for human consumption have been cultivated since it became a domesticated crop. Currently, tobacco is the most widely produced non-food crop in the world.

Tobacco is native to North America, although other plants in genus Nicotiana grow elsewhere in the world and have also been used by humans. One type grows wild in Australia and was commonly consumed by the aboriginal population until the introduction of tobacco as we know it today by colonists.

A Brief History of Tobacco

tobaccohistoryScientists have recently found a fossil containing tobacco that is 2.5 million years ago in northeastern Peru. The plant grew wild throughout the Americas, and it is believed that it was first cultivated and domesticated several thousand years ago. Wild strains made their way naturally from South America to North America, and the domesticated versions were present in the Southwest by around 1000-1400 B.C.

Tobacco was considered sacred to the ancient peoples that lived in both South and North America. It was often included in ceremonies and its use at that time was often for the narcotic effect that could be achieved. Imbibing tobacco, sometimes mixed with other substances, could create profound psychological effects, such as hallucination and go into a trance. Practical applications for it have also been recorded; tobacco smoke and juice were used as insecticides on other plants and were also rubbed on the skin to keep bugs away, and a host of medicinal qualities were attributed to it by the native populace.

Although tobacco was smoked by ancient Native Americans, they also ingested it by mixing with liquids and drinking it, chewing, grinding and snorting it through the nose, and even by preparing and using enemas laced with it.

Tobacco leaves were one of the gifts given to Colombus in 1492 when he reached the New World, although their value was unknown to him. It did not take long for tobacco use to spread among Europeans. A man by the name of Rodrigo de Jerez sailed with Columbus on this same voyage, and in November of 1492, saw the natives smoking the same strange leaves that had been gifted. From them, he learned the art of smoking tobacco and brought it back to Spain. His smoke exhalations frightened everyone, as they believed only the devil could blow smoke from his mouth, and the Spanish Inquisition captured and held him for seven years.

By 1531 Europeans began actively farming tobacco plants in Santo Domingo. The n tabacum plant used most widely today was brought to Santo Domingo and Cuba for cultivation.

In 1556, tobacco was brought to France for cultivation. Quickly, use spread throughout all of Europe, to notoriously mixed reviews. Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, was given tobacco to cure migraines in 1561. The supposed medicinal properties of tobacco were touted wide and far, and popularity skyrocketed in Spain. In England, sailors were smoking tobacco, but it was not used by most of the populace. By 1573, the tabacum plant was brought in from the Americas by Sir Francis Drake.

Throughout the 1580s, England had officially staked a claim on the North American colonies. The first governor of Virginia is credited with inventing the clay pipe, and this was introduced to society in 1586 when some of the Virginian settlers came back to England. Tobacco cultivation in the following years began to skyrocket, and the American tobacco trade was established, with the first American crop sold to England in 1614.

Tobacco becomes the cash crop for early European settlers. By 1619, tobacco was currency, and the Colonies thrived and boomed with tobacco commerce.

Restrictions on tobacco growers helped fuel the Revolutionary War, but the proceeds from tobacco sales also helped to fund it. In the coming centuries, tobacco use spread across the U.S. as quickly as the settlers did, and tobacco remained a great source of income to the nation.

Types of Tobacco

There are many forms of tobacco, and many people use them in a variety of ways. We have listed off for you just a few of the most popular forms:


Cigars are made from dried tobacco leaves which we usually age for 3-6 months. The fermentation process causes chemical reactions to help give cigars their unique texture and flavor. Also, other flavors and herbs may be added to cigars to increase or change the taste.


They are similar to the process of that of a cigar but have other additives added to them. Cigarettes are small long tubular pieces of paper rolled into shape and usually have a filter on end.


A Hookah is a type of pipe to smoke different types of tobacco and other materials such as fruits or vegetables. It is all combined and filtered through water.

Chewing tobacco

It is is known as snuff or smokeless tobacco, a person often places a wad of tobacco inside their mouth, between the gum and the lip. The user spits out the juices and sucks on the wad until all the flavor and chemicals are all used up.


A Pipe is probably the more recognizable form of smoking tobacco. A pipe is a reusable bowl with a mouthpiece and a lid. Pipes use Loose-leafed tobacco, pieces of the tobacco leaves are ripped apart and stuffed into the pipe to be smoked.

In cigarettes and cigars, ground leaves are often mixed with a variety of chemicals to give them more flavor, make them more addictive and produce desired smoking effects. Mass-produced cigarettes often contain thousands of ingredients along with the tobacco.

Most of the e-liquids also use nicotine found in tobacco leaves.

Effects of Tobacco

flue cured tobaccoTobacco by itself creates fewer side effects than it does when combined with the many other chemicals usually present in cigarettes or cigars. Simply inhaling smoke from tobacco leaves (or smoke of any kind) causes a number of health issues that affect the lungs and heart. In the short term, it causes shortness of breath, toxic buildup, coughing and a scratchy throat. Long-term use ensures that carcinogens are introduced heavily into the body’s systems. This means a greater risk for lung cancer, throat cancer and other forms of respiratory cancer. Heart disease of all kinds is also a byproduct of prolonged use.

When coupled with nicotine, it becomes incredibly addictive, and the people who use it tend to smoke so long that about half of them die from related conditions.

Tobacco is responsible for the largest percentage of preventable disease in the world. Its use may be slightly different from country to country, but whether it is clove cigarette, cigars, smokeless tobacco or kreteks, the end result is always the same after extended use. The sooner a user quits using tobacco, the greater their chances will be that they do not experience the vast majority of harmful side effects.

Tobacco in Different Eras of Human History

Ancient Times

The Americas

It’s believed that the first people who came across with the magical properties of tobacco were the Asian people who came in one migratory wave and spread across the Americas. Human curiosity is more than natural, and over 2000 years ago, pushed by their need for exploring the world, people in the Andes Mountains started chewing tobacco leaves. That was considered as a spiritual practice because people who used tobacco could easily reach a state of stupor. On top of that, tobacco was widely used due to its medical and harvesting properties. Shamans used it to spread prosperity, fertility, and peace. The most common method was smoking a pipe.

Ancient Egypt

Far from the Americas, another major civilization couldn’t stay away from the mystical properties of smoking. Experts still do not know how tobacco smoking started in Egypt, but there’s evidence that tobacco had been used even in the era of the Pharaohs. Incenses were widely employed in rituals and ceremonies.

Ancient Europe

Ancient Greece and Rome were also fascinated by smoking, and although tobacco was still not so common, some of the ingredients used by doctors and philosophers were opium, Valerian, and marijuana. Bone marrows and clay pipes were the primary devices used for smoking.

Ancient Asia

Just like Ancient Europe, the Middle East and Southern Asia were also known for marijuana smoking, while East Asia had inclinations towards opium smoking. Hookahs, bongs, pipes, and chillums were the main methods people used to smoke. Note that it was Persia where hookahs were invented: they varied from fine pieces of art through coconuts and bamboo parts.

Middle Ages

The Americas

While there’s not much information about tobacco smoking in the Ancient World, we should admit that the Middle Ages didn’t shed more light on the topic. Not surprisingly, this period is known as the Dark Ages. At least, there’s one journey that changed history and put a start of the Age of Discovery. In 1492, Columbus discovered a whole new universe: the universe of tobacco and smoking.

Although Christian practitioners claimed that smoking and its euphoric effects were satanic, tobacco use spread so quickly that in 1531 people started growing tobacco in Europe. Doctors believed in its cleansing properties and used it as analgesic and antiseptic. In 1560, Jean Nicot introduced smoking to France, and in fact, it’s believed that the word ‘nicotine’ derives from his surname.


However, when we hear the word ‘smoking,’ we associate it with pleasure. Isn’t that right? The first cigarette of the day and the initial kick of adrenaline. Well, it was Sir Walter Raleigh who popularized tobacco smoking as a pleasurable habit across England. As tobacco became a favorite product of many, tobacco became a leading participant in the colonial industry. English loved their pipes, Spanish preferred their cigars, and the French couldn’t resists their snuffs.


Colonialism and its impact on slave trade can be described as a symbolic continuation of the Dark Ages. However, colonialism twisted today’s perceptions of globalism. As mentioned earlier, England accepted smoking as a joyful habit, so having a colony meant more tobacco supply. Some tea from China and India, and some tobacco from America – England had it all. John Rolfe was the first one to cultivate successfully Nicotiana tobaccum, which was shipped to the UK in 1613.

Tobacco trade spread not only in America and Europe but Africa and the rest of the world. In a matter of fact, tobacco became popular within the Japanese society in no time, and Samurai knights had even silver pipes to smoke it. It’s curious to mention that Japanese also had an incense tray, which became today’s ashtray.


It was inevitable and smoking practices changed dramatically. As stated earlier, the Spanish loved their hand-rolled cigars, so the Spanish tobacco industry thrived and offered their rolled products to the world. Not surprisingly, high demand meant high prices. So it was the smaller hand-made versions of cigars, made by poor single women, that became the first known cigarettes. The French adopted the Spanish word ‘cigarito’ and transformed it in ‘cigarette.’ In fact, by 1830, the French started manufacturing modern cigarettes.

Modern History

Later on, James Bonsack patented a machine that could produce 200 cigarettes a minute, eliminating the need for workers. It wasn’t only the new techniques, though. Something else changed history and history of smoking in particular: advertising. As tobacco smoking started in America, it was the U.S. that began promoting tobacco products. Thus, made on a conveyor and advertised, cigarettes became highly in demand throughout the world. For women, cigarettes were seen as ‘torches of freedom’ because they empowered their social roles.

Around the same time, doctors started to realize that tobacco smoking correlated with lung cancer and other health problems. Even before that, doctors linked smoking with lip cancer, but it was around the 20’s when the first studies and reports appeared – something that caused a war between science and advertising media, a war that cost millions of dollars.

A Final Word About Tobacco

Any form of tobacco that contains nicotine is the most dangerous type to use. That is because nicotine is not only addictive, but it is also toxic, and it is a major component in many pesticides. Tobacco serves no beneficial medical purpose, and its use is widely criticized by health organizations around the world as detrimental not only to those who use it but also to those around them who suffer secondhand effects. After all, 60,000 people die each year from illnesses caused by secondhand smoke.