- Tobacco is the leaf of the flowering plant Nicotiana tabacum, which is native to North and South America. Archeological evidence, notably pipes, suggests that tobacco was in use as long as 12,000 years ago. The Mayans in Central America smoked tobacco leaves in religious ceremonies as early as 100 BC.
- In 1612 English colonist John Rolfe planted tobacco seeds from the Caribbean at Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in North America. Tobacco became so valuable that it was often used as a currency for payments of certain fines, taxes, and fees, as well as in trade with Native Americans.
- Because tobacco requires considerable labor for growing, harvesting, and curing (hanging on sticks in barns for four to six weeks), plantation owners imported slaves to plant and pick tobacco beginning in 1619.
- As the leading cash crop in Virginia and the Carolinas, tobacco was a mainstay of America’s economic growth for three centuries.
- A federal price support program implemented in the 1930s helped farmers to control supply and maintain stable prices. In the 1960s cigarette manufacturers began undermining the program by using low-cost foreign tobacco. In 1982, tobacco loan program operations were required to function at no net cost to taxpayers.
- Since 1998, through funds allocated under the Master Settlement Agreement negotiated between the state attorneys-general and the cigarette manufacturers, tobacco farmers have been offered a buy-out option to encourage them to plant alternative crops.
- The price support program was ended in 2004, dramatically reducing the number of small tobacco farmers (from 80,000 in 2002 to 4200 in 2015).