History of Tobacco

Tobacco’s genus, Nicotiana, named in honor of Jean Nicot, the French ambassador to Portugal, contains sixty-four species, two of which have been used by humans for various purposes, Nicotiana rustica, and Nicotiana tabacum. These species are native only to the Americas and were first seen by humans 18,000 years ago. It is estimated that tobacco plants were first cultivated sometime between 5000-3000 B.C in the Peruvian/Ecuadorean Andes and that its use spread throughout the America’s and included Cuba as well. As time passed, humans found many uses for this plant. It was initially used by shamans in South America, in religious rites as well as a medicine. It served as a mild analgesic and antiseptic, a poultice applied to wounds and teeth, as eye drops, enemas and as a narcotic. Its smoke was blown on women to make them fertile, and on warriors to give them courage in battles. In 1565 (Seville, Spain) Nicolas Monardes wrote a treatise, “Joyful News of our New Found World” in which he claimed that tobacco could be used to treat toothaches, kidney stones, tape worms, and dandruff.5

Fast forward to 1889, in the US, James “Buck” Duke formed the American Tobacco Company. Utilizing Virginia inventor James Bonsack’s cigarette rolling machine, he made 200 cigarettes a minute. Within five years one billion cigarettes were produced.5 The sale of Duke’s cigarettes exploded, leading the way to the production of 30 cigarettes a second and the sales of approximately six trillion cigarettes worldwide in 2014 (Figure 1).6 As this century progresses, we are seeing the tobacco industry expand their sale of cigarettes into Asia, the Middle East and Africa as the market in developed countries shrinks, and as a global health treaty (FCTC), has been introduced to reduce tobacco related diseases. Tobacco companies will continue to create new products which healthcare professionals will need to address as our patients use them.

Figure 1. US Adult Per Capita Cigarette Consumption and Major Smoking and Health Events, 1900-2013.2
Graph showing US Adult Per Capita Cigarette Consumption and Major Smoking and Health Events, 1900-2013