Skip Navigation

Nicotine and Health: A Publication by the American Council on Science and Health

January 2, 2014
By American Council on Science and Health

Tobacco for smoking was brought from the Americas to Europe by Christopher Columbus and others in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

two tumblers with liquor and a lit cigarrette

Tobacco for smoking was brought from the Americas to Europe by Christopher Columbus and others in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Eventually, nicotine was isolated as the essential ingredient that had driven demand for tobacco since the 1700s, creating fortunes for the tobacco barons supplying Europe with nasal snuff and pipe tobacco. From the 1880s, with the invention of the cigarette machine, addictive tobacco/nicotine could be packaged in a standardized afford-able cigarette, creating the fortunes of today’s American and British tobacco multinationals (later joined by tobacco conglomerates in Japan and China). Today, nicotine continues to drive demand for the deadly cigarette.

Nicotine is the primary pharmacologically-active substance in tobacco and was first isolated chemically in 1828 and synthesized in the 1890s. Like caffeine and morphine, nicotine is an alkaloid—a biological, naturally occurring, nitrogen-containing compound. Nicotine is found in the Nicotiana or tobacco plant, part of the Solanaceae family of flowering plants which include edibles such as potato, tomato and chili peppers, and other highly toxic species such as deadly nightshade that contain insignificant amounts of nicotine. Nicotine makes up one to three percent of dried tobacco, and a cigarette contains about 10 mg of nicotine. Tobacco was used with little in the way of health effect until the widespread use of portable matches met up with the mass production of cigarettes around the turn of the last century. In the 1960s, the cigarette industry knew that nicotine was the addictive agent in cigarettes, a fact not officially recognized until the U.S. Surgeon General’s landmark 1988 report.

Article Tags
Alcohol & Tobacco