Tobacco is an herbaceous plant belonging to the Solanaceae family. The primary source of commercial tobacco is cultivated and harvested Nicotiana tabacum (1)(2). Tobacco leaves contain nicotine, the chemical responsible for tobacco’s addictive effects. To get these effects, the leaves can be chewed, smoked, or sniffed. Nicotine’s effects on the body include decreased appetite, elevated mood and feeling of well-being, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and stimulated memory and alertness. These effects don’t last long and may be replaced by symptoms of nicotine withdrawal within 2-3 hours after the last tobacco use. Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include intense nicotine cravings, anxiety, depression, restlessness, headaches, increased appetite, and concentration problems (3). The intensity of nicotine’s effects as well as nicotine withdrawal symptoms depends on the level of nicotine present in the body. In 1993 in the U.S, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation specially bred a type of tobacco known as Y-1 by using genetically altered tobacco seeds. The Y-1 breed of tobacco was reported to have had the highest known nicotine yield in tobacco at that time, at 6.2% compared to the 2.5-3% found in typical flue-cured tobacco. Y-1 tobacco was used in five brands of American cigarettes, but its usage was discontinued when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) became concerned with nicotine-level manipulation (4).


From left to right: Nicotiana tabacum, Chemical structure of nicotine, Tobacco field
  1. Tobacco Timeline
  2. 1st century BC – Earliest archaeological evidence indicates smoking in Mayan civilization (5)
  3. 1612 – Chinese ban growing and smoking tobacco (5)
  4. 1723 – Berlin bans smoking (5)
  5. 1761 – Englishman John Hill claims that using too much snuff could cause nose cancer (5)
  6. 1910 – U.S. tobacco taxes amounts to approximately $13 million this year (5)
  7. 1912 – Isaac Adler raises concern that cigarettes might cause lung cancer (5)
  8. 1921 – Smoking is illegal in 14 American states though bans are removed within the decade (5)
  9. 1930s – Tobacco provides approximately 8% of Germany’s entire national tax income (5)
  10. 1964 – Surgeon General’s report on cigarettes and tobacco (42) 1970s – U.S. tobacco taxes amounts to approximately $5 billion (5)
  11. 1971 – Radio and television advertising for cigarettes is banned (6)
  12. 1998 – Attorney generals of 46 U.S. states and major tobacco corporations agree upon the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (7)
  13. 2001 – Tobacco provides approximately 10% of China’s entire national tax income (5)
  14. 2003 – Hon Lik of Beijing, China, invents the electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) (8)
  15. 2006 – E-cigarettes are introduced to Europe and the U.S. (8)
  16. 2014 – CVS, a major U.S. pharmacy chain, announces its intention to stop selling tobacco products by October 1, 2014 (9