Tobacco is a plant originally indigenous to the Americas which is now grown across the world. Its leaves contain high levels of the addictive chemical nicotine and many cancer-causing chemicals, especially polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The leaves may be smoked (in cigarettes, cigars, and pipes), applied to the gums (as dipping and chewing tobacco), or inhaled (as snuff). Nicotine is now being extracted from the leaf to produce novel nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes, but also for Nicotine Replacement Therapies, which are used to treat tobacco addiction. Tobacco use and exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke causes many types of cancer, as well as heart, respiratory, and other diseases.


Tobacco production has continued to shift from high- to low- and medium- Human Development Index (HDI) countries over the past 50 years. Many consider tobacco a cash crop, but studies conducted in multiple countries have found that tobacco farmers are often stuck in a cycle of debt that the tobacco industry perpetuates in its relationships with these farmers. In addition, as many as 16 countries use child labor in the production of tobacco. Tobacco farming is also bad for the environment, as tobacco depletes the soil of nutrients more than other crops and often requires the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.


Tobacco Leaf Production

by HDI, 1960-2014

In the last few decades, China has come to dominate tobacco production, but notably production has dropped markedly in very high-HDI countries and increased everywhere else.