Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) has been smoked, eaten and snuffed by native peoples throughout the New World. They valued the plant and incorporated smoking into their ritualized practices.
Columbus discovered tobacco and returned with cigars for Queen Isabella. The introduction of tobacco to the Old World ultimately led to tobacco’s widespread use among British subjects. In order to insure continual supply of tobacco, the British government promoted tobacco cultivation in its colonies. Since there were higher revenues for tobacco relative to corn, the early colonists along the eastern seaboard of America grew and cultivated the tobacco plant.
Nicotine, the major alkaloid in tobacco, is a central nervous system stimulant.
A large portion of the world’s population regularly use nicotine. Nicotine is a potent toxic compound that is implicated in causing lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. Pharmacologically, nicotine stimulates acetylcholine receptors to cause an increase in blood pressure and the release of epinephrine from the adrenal glands. Nicotine is able to cross the blood-brain barrier and is one of the most physically and psychologically addictive substances.
Nicotine also produces an increase in activity of the gastrointestinal tract. This effect facilitates the elimination of feces after smoking. Despite its obvious health hazards, tobacco remains a legal drug. In fact the government continues to subsidize tobacco farmers through price supports. Recent data released by the Tobacco industry revealed the tobacco company's’ knowledge of the addictive nature of nicotine and the manufacturers manipulation of nicotine levels in cigarettes to make them more addictive.