Nicotine And Tobacco

TOBACCO is a tall, herbaceous plant, the leaves of which are harvested, cured, and rolled into cigars, shredded for use in cigarettes and pipes, and processed for chewing or snuff. Tobacco has become a commercial crop in almost all tropical countries as

Figure 1

Some of the Plants Used in Making Drugs and Alcoholic Beverages.

Figure 1

Some of the Plants Used in Making Drugs and Alcoholic Beverages.

well as in many temperate ones. The main source of commercial tobacco is Nicotiana tabacum, although Nicotiana rustica is also grown and is used in Asian tobaccos. Tobacco has been developed to yield a wide range of morphologically different types, from the small-leaved aromatic tobaccos to the large, broad-leaved cigar tobaccos. Tobacco is native to South America, where it was used in a drink for ritual purposes long before inhaling the smoke of the dried plant material was first documented by the Maya more than 2,000 years ago. Tobacco was then traded and grown in Central America; it moved into Mexico and the Caribbean and eventually into North America by about 800 A.D. The Arawaks of the Caribbean smoked tobacco, and during Columbus's voyage of 1492, he found the Arawaks smoking loosely rolled cigars. The Spanish took tobacco seeds to Europe, where Jean Nicot, France's ambassador to Portugal, sent tobacco to Paris in 1560 and gave the plant its genus (Nicotiana). In England, Sir Walter Raleigh began the popularization of pipe smoking in 1586, and the cultivation and consumption of tobacco spread with each voyage of discovery from Europe. Two kinds of tobacco were traded between Europe and America: ''Spanish,'' from the West Indies and South America, and ''Virginia,'' from the British plantations in their colony of Virginia. Despite its popularity in England, King James I forbade its production there since he vehemently disapproved of tobacco. Europeans at first smoked their tobacco in pipes, and later in cigars. It was often provided free to drinkers of coffee in coffee houses and cafes, as was the new product sugar. (Both remain strongly associated with coffee drinking.) Cigarettes spread in popularity only after the Crimean War (1854-1856), and their spread was especially aided by the first cigarette-making machine, developed in the United States in 1881.

NICOTINE is the most powerful ingredient of the tobacco plant, found primarily in the leaves. Nicotine is an extremely poisonous, colorless, oily alkaloid that turns brown upon exposure to the air. Nicotine can affect the central nervous system, resulting in respiratory failure and general paralysis. Nicotine can also be absorbed through the skin. Only two to three drops—less than 50 milligrams—of the pure alkaloid placed on the tongue can be rapidly fatal to an adult. A typical cigarette contains 15 to 20 milligrams of nicotine; however, the actual amount that reaches the bloodstream

(and, therefore, the brain) through normal smoking is only about 1 milligram. Nicotine is responsible for most of the short-term as well as the long-term effects of smoking and plays a major role in the reinforcing properties.

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