Nicotiana tabacum L.

Last updated: 10 Oct 2016

Scientific Name

Nicotiana tabacum L.


Nicotiana chinensis Fisch. ex Lehm., Nicotiana fruticosa Moc. & Sessé ex Dunal [Invalid], Nicotiana latissima Mill., Nicotiana mexicana Schltdl., Nicotiana pilosa Dunal, Nicotiana tabaca St.-Lag. [Spelling variant]. [1]

Vernacular Name

Malaysia Tembakau [2]
English Bosotho tobacco, common tobacco, flowering tobacco, tobacco [2]
China Jen tsao, yan cao, yen tsao, yuyen tsao [2]
India Dhuan patra, dhurapan, duma, hogesoppu, pogaku, pokala, pugaiyilai, pugere, pukayila, tamaakhu, tamak, tamakhu, tamakoo, tamaku, tambaakhu, tambaku, tamrakuta, tamuk, tanbak, tombacu [2]
Indonesia Tabako, tembakau [2][3]; bako [3]
Thailand Yasup, chawua [3]
Laos Iyaa (people Nya Hön) [2]
Vietnam Thu[oos]c l[as] [3]
Philippines Tabaco, tabako, tobacco [2]
Nepal Surti [2]
Papua New Guinea Brus, kena, kuku siemu, sakue, sok, yaki [2]
Congo Fumu, laanga, maanga, mbuli [2]
Lesotho Koae ea Sesotho, setalane [2]
Nigeria Anwere, ewe taba, taba, taba esu [2]
Zambia Fwaka, mufofo, tombwe [2]
France Tabac, tabac commun [3]
South America Apuga, a’xcu’t, ayic, chiri, chiri tseri, cuauhyetl, cauyetl, cutz, fumo, gueeza, guexa, gueza, hapis copxot, huepá, huepaca, huipá, iri, iyátl, ju’uikill, k’uts, kuutz, may, me-e, otzi, pee nahe, petima, petum, picietl, pori, ro-hú, ro-u, romu, rume, sairi, seri, shahuano, sheri, shiña, sidí, ssina, Tabaco, Tabaco bobo, tsaang, tsiña, uipa, ya, yaná, yemats, yiri [2].

Geographical Distributions

Nicotiana tabacum was domesticated in Central and South America more than 2000 years ago and does not appear to exist anymore in a truly wild state. This amphidiploid species probably evolved from interspecific hybridisation between diploid parents (N. sylvestris Speg. & Comes and N. otophora Griseb. or N. tomentosiformis Goodsp.) occurring naturally in north-western Argentina. When the first Spanish explorers arrived in the Caribbean and Americas towards the end of the 15th Century, they found that tobacco smoking was widespread among the local people. They quickly adopted the habit, initially for medicinal purposes but soon mainly for pleasure and introduced tobacco cultivation throughout the world. The first N. tabacum was planted in Europe around year 1560 and North America (Virginia) in 1612. From the Philippines, it was brought to Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Japan and India in the early part of the 17th Century. In Europe, pipe smoking became very popular and N. tabacum for this purpose was imported from the Americas: Virginia produced in the south-eastern states of North America and Spanish from the Caribbean islands and South America. However, by the end of the 18th Century this profitable trade had declined due to increase domestic N. tabacum production in Europe. Most of N. tabacum grown in Asia was used locally for chewing and smoking in cheroots or traditional cigarettes. Very little was traded internationally until the development of the cigar tobacco plantation industry in Java and north-eastern Sumatra after 1860. [3]

Botanical Description

N. tabacum is a member of the family of Solanaceae. It is an annual herb that can reach up to 1-2.5(-3) m tall, with a thick, unbranched (except when topped), erect stem and with well-developed taproot. [3]

The leaves and stem are green (except for white Burley cultivars), covered with multicellular hairs, some glandular and sticky. The leaves are arranged spirally which 20-35 per plant (higher numbers in certain indeterminate cultivars). The number is fairly constant for each cultivar and with no stalk. The blade is ovate-lance-shaped or elliptical, measuring 5-50 cm x 5-25 cm, entire, with slightly undulating margin, decurrent, usually with an auriculate base and pinnately veined. [3]

The flowers are borne in a thyrsoid panicle terminal and up to 150 per inflorescence. The pedicel is 1-2(-2.5) cm long and subtended by a bract. The sepal is cylindric-bell-shaped, measures 1-2.5 cm long and with 5 unequal pointed teeth. The petal is salver-shaped, with a 3.5-5.5 cm long tube with throat inflated, hairy, usually pale pink, rarely white or carmine red, with a 10-15 mm wide limb and acutely 5-lobed to pentagonal. There are 5 stamens that are inserted on the petal tube, with unequal length filaments, small anthers and dehiscing longitudinally. The ovary is superior, 2-locular with a fleshy axile placenta that carries numerous ovules, with a long style, slender, with capitates and 2-lobed stigma. [3]

The fruit is a 2-valved, ellipsoid to ovoid or spherical capsule and measures 1.5-2 cm long. The greater part is enclosed by the sepal. [3]

The seeds are numerous, 2000-5000 per fruit, ovoid to spherical, very small, measure 0.4-0.6 mm long, with finely reticulate surface and light to dark brown. The seedling is with epigeal germination. [3]


N. tabacum is cultivated under a wide range of climatic conditions, from Sweden (60°N) to New Zealand (40°S). It requires a frost-free period of 90-110 days after transplanting and at high latitudes seedlings are therefore raised in glasshouses. The mean temperatures for optimum growth are 21-27°C, with lower and upper limits of 13°C and 37°C. Water requirements are 300-400 mm, evenly distributed during the growing season. Cigarette (e.g. Virginia) tobaccos need a dry period at the end of the season to obtain the required thickness and yellow colour of cured leaves. To produce thin and elastic leaves, wrapper tobacco needs a high humidity (70% at noon) and a reduced sunshine intensity (70% of maximum sunshine). Clouds occurring on rainy days act as a natural filter for the sunlight. The quality of Deli cigar wrapper tobacco is said to be determined in the first place by climatic conditions and only in the second place by soil conditions. To mimic the growing conditions of North Sumatra, cigar wrapper tobacco is now cultivated under shade not only in other parts of Indonesia (Java), but also in Connecticut (the United States). In Central Java, the main area of cigarette tobacco is on the Dieng plateau at about 1000 m elevation, where generally a better quality is produced. Soils most suited to tobacco cultivation are light to medium loams with a good water-retaining capacity and slightly acid reaction (pH 5.0-6.0). The soils must be well drained, since N. tabacum is very sensitive to waterlogging. Cigar-type tobaccos require more fertile soils than Virginia tobacco. Since combustibility is an essential quality component of cigar and cigarette tobacco, chloride content in the soil should be low, preferably not higher than 40 ppm while irrigation water should have chloride content, not exceeding 25 ppm. [3]

Chemical Constituent

N. tabacum have been reported to contain 4-desmethylsterols, stigmasterol, β-sitosterol from the seed extraction. Six fractions observed were: hydrocarbons, sterol esters, triglycerides, diglycerides, monoglycerides and free sterol [4]. Soluble organic non-nitrogenous compounds, such as chlorogenic acid isomers, scopoletin, rutin, monohydroxyphenolic compounds and soluble tannins were also found [5].

Plant Part Used

Leaves. [3][6]

Traditional Use

N. tabacum leaves are smoked, chewed or snuffed and it is addictive. In its native land it had been used medicinally. The leaves are considered antispasmodic, diuretic, expectorant, irritant, narcotic and sedative. It is useful for the treatment of rheumatic swellings, skin diseases and even scorpion stings. It can relieve painful haemorrhoids and eye infections. [6][7]

Preclinical Data

No documentation

Clinical Data

No documentation


No documentation

Poisonous Management

Toxic parts

The whole plant is poisonous especially the leaves and fruits. [6][8][9]


Nicotine and related compounds anabasine and nornicotine are the main toxic alkaloid found in the plant. The leaves and fruits is where most of these toxin lies (2 – 3 % nicotine) with lesser amounts in the roots, flowers and stems. The primary action is activation and then blockade of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. This activation in the cortex, thalamus, inter-peduncular nucleus accounts for the coma and seizures seen in toxic doses of nicotine. The activation of the receptors in autonomic ganglia produces various effects on the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. These effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, bradycardia, tachycardia and miosis. They also act as depolarizing neuromuscular blocking agent producing fasciculations and paralysis. [8][9]

Risk management

The indiscriminate disposal of ciggarette buds by adults pose a danger of probable poisoning to curious infants and toddlers. There have been reported cases of deaths from consumption of remnants of tobacco in cigarette buds by toddlers throughout the world. Workers in tobacco plantation should wear protective gloves to prevent the occurrence of green tobacco sickness. [8][9]

Poisonous clinical findings

Nicotine or its related compounds can lead to any or all of the listed symptoms below:

Mucurinic – Salivation, lacrimation, urination, gastrointestinal cramping, emesis, myosis, bronchspasm and bradycardia. [8][9]

Nicotinic – Weakness, fasciculations, paralysis, tachycardia, coma and seizure. [8][9]

Symptoms of mild nicotine intoxication include salivation, nausea, vomiting, loss of equilibrium and sensory disturbances. There is also stimulation of peristalsis of the gastrointestinal tract with frequent and vigorous evacuations of the bowels being the consequence. [8][9]

In acute intoxications there would be convulsions, tachycardia and increase in blood pressure and this is followed by curare-type paralysis of the muscles which leads to death from respiratory failure. Very large oral dose is fatal within seconds and any lethal dose will produce death in minutes. [8][9]

Green tobacco sickness commonly affects workers handling leaves where nicotine absorbed through the skin. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, diaphoresis and weakness that usually resolve with symptomatic treatment. [8][9]


The management of tobacco poisoning is essentially symptomatic and supportive with special attention to ventilation and monitoring of vital signs. [6]

Acute Poisoning

Emergency Procedure

1. Skin contamination requires thorough washing with copious soap and water with vigorous scrubbing. [6]

2. Give activated charcoal to adsorb any remaining nicotine. The usual dose is 30–100g in adults and 15–30 g in children (1–2g/kg in infant). [6]

3. Gastric Lavage – indicated if performed immediately after ingestion or in comatose patient or those at risk of convulsing. It is best to have the patient in the Trendelenburg and left lateral decubitus or with cuffed endotracheal intubation in order to protect the airways. Use tap water containing activated charcoal. [6]

4. Artificial respiration with oxygen should be initiated when available.

Specific Drugs and Antidotes

1. Mecamylamine is the specific antidote to nicotine. [6]

2. Atropine sulphate (adult 0.4–2 mg; child 0.01mg/kg, not to exceed 0.4 mg per dose) intramuscular or intravenous injection and repeated every 3–8 minutes until signs of parasympathetic toxicity is controlled. Atropine can be continued to control symptoms. Ensure proper oxygenation to avoid arrhythmias associated with hypoxia. Interruption of atropine therapy may result in death due to pulmonary oedema or respiratoty failure. [6]

3. Phentolamine 1–5 mg i.m. or i.v. to control signs of sympathetic hyperactivity.

General Measures

1. Control of convulsions by administering Diazepam iv bolus (adult 5–10 mg initially to be repeated every 15 minutes if necessary; child 0.25–0.4 mg/kg dose up to 10mg/dose) or Lorazepam i.v. bolus (adult, 4–8 mg; child, 0.05–0.1mg/kg). [6]

2. Monitor ECG and vital signs carefully

Caution: Antacids is an absolute contraindication as nicotine is known to be better absorbed in alkaline medium.

NB: Complete recovery can be expected if victim survives more than 4 hours. [6]

Line drawing


Figure 1: The line drawing of N. tabacum [3]


  1. The Plant List. Ver. 1.1. Nicotiana tabacum L. [homepage on the Internet]. c2013 [updated 2012 Mar 26; cited 2016 Oct 10]. Available from:
  2. Quattrocchi U. CRC World dictionary of plant names: Common names, scientific names, eponyms, synonyms, and etymology. Volume III M-Q. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 2000; p. 279.
  3. Hartana I, Vermeulen H. Nicotiana tabacum L. In: van der Vossen HAM, Wessel M Editors. Plant Resources of South-East Asia No. 16: Stimulants. Leiden, Netherlands; Backhuys Publisher, 2000; p. 201.
  4. Maestri DM, Guzmán CA. Chemical composition of tobacco seeds (Nicotiana tabacum L) from Argentina. J Sci Food Agri. 1993;61(2):227-230.
  5. Andersen R, Kasperbauer MJ. Chemical composition of tobacco leaves altered by near-ultraviolet and intensity of visible light. Plant Physiol. 1973;51(4):723-726.
  6. Nelson LS, Shih RD, Ballick MJ. Handbook of poisonous and injurious plants. New York: Springer, 2007; p. 224–226.
  7. Odugbemi T, editor. A textbook of medicinal plants of Nigeria. Lagos, Nigeria: University of Lagos Press, 2008; p. 308.
  8. Nellis DW. Poisonous plants and animals of Florida and the Caribbean. Saratosa, Florida: Pineapple Press, 1997; p. 240.
  9. Holstege C, Neer T, Saathoff G, Furbee B. Criminal poisoning: Clinical and forensic perspectives. Sudbury, Massachusetts: Jones and Barlett Publishers, 2010; p. 119-122.