tobacco, name for any plant of the genus Nicotiana of the Solanaceae family ( nightshade family) and for the product manufactured from the leaf and used in cigars and cigarettes, snuff, and pipe and chewing tobacco. Tobacco plants are also used in plant bioengineering, and some of the 60 species are grown as ornamentals. The chief commercial species, N. tabacum, is believed native to tropical America, like most nicotiana plants, but has been so long cultivated that it is no longer known in the wild. N. rustica, a mild-flavored, fast-burning species, was the tobacco originally raised in Virginia, but it is now grown chiefly in Turkey, India, and Russia. The alkaloid nicotine is the most characteristic constituent of tobacco and is responsible for its addictive nature. The possible harmful effects of the nicotine, tarry compounds, and carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke vary with the individual's tolerance (see smoking).
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