From the Central American plateau and southern Mexico, starting from the sixteenth century, the tobacco plant spread rapidly all over the world, differentiating in many varieties, thanks to its excellent adaptability to different environments. Of the original species, Nicotiana tabacum has become the predominant one.

The tobacco plant, whose center of origin has been located by geneticists in the Peruvian-Ecuadorian Andes, belongs to the Solanaceae family, comprising about 2,000 species, many of which are used in nutrition (tomato, eggplant, potato, pepper) In medicine (belladonna, henbane, jimson weed) and for ornamental purposes (petunia). Estimates on the date of its first cultivation vary between 5,000 and 3,000 b.C.. It is an annual or sometimes multiannual herb with a straight stem, 1-3 meters high. The leaves contain substances that determine the aroma and taste of smoking tobacco products. The content of the main alkaloid, nicotine, normally ranges between 0.2 and 5% of the dry weight, but in some varieties it reaches 8%.

Tobaccos cultivated in the European Union all belong to the Nicotiana tabacum L. specie. Tobacco varieties differ according to the curing process during which the raw tobacco leaves are dried, lose their green color and assume a different color ranging from yellow to red-brown or black-brown, according to the curing method.

Tobacco leaves, after curing, undergo the first processing, a series of physical processes during which the leaves are selected according to the morphological characteristics (sorting), rehydrated, eliminate the ribs and the major ribs (threshing), and then the leaf lamina is reduced to fragments (strips) which are stabilized for storage and sent to the manufacture.

For cigarettesmanufacturing: English blends cigarettes tobacco blends of flue-cured varieties (dried in ovens) such as Virginia-Bright are used, while for American blends cigarettes, flue-cured tobacco are blended with light air-cured varieties, such as Burley, and Oriental or sun-cured tobacco. Flue-cured varieties are also used for the production of tobacco for hookah (shisha).

For cigars manufacturing, instead, are used dark air-cured varieties like Nostrano del Brenta, Havanna or Badischer Geudertimer and fire-cured varieties such as Kentucky Which, undergoes fermentation, and is used for the manufacture of Sigaro Toscano.
The consumption of pipe tobacco, and even more snuff, is today a niche market, and blends of tobacco of all varieties, sometimes subjected to specific re-fermentation processes (Cavendish), are used for their manufacture.
Leaf tobacco production in the European Union has declined sharply in the recent years, following the complete abolition of coupled subsidies (crop 2010) and today stands at around 180,000 tons (crop 2016) with prevalence of flue-cured varieties (67 %), followed by Oriental (16%), light air-cured (16%), dark air-cured (2%) and fire-cured (1%) varieties.
Worldwide leaf tobacco production is today about 4,900,000 tones, of which over 45% is produced mainly in China for domestic consumption, the world's largest exporter is Brazil, followed by distance from USA, India, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
Raw tobacco produced in the EU accounts for about 3.7% of the world's total production and 7.5% of world marketing.
Italy is the European Union's first producer of raw tobacco, with a 27% share and a total volume of around 50.000 tons; even though leaf tobacco growing is spread today in 9 regions, from north to south of the peninsula, 97% of tobacco is grown in only 4 regions; Campania, Umbria, Veneto and Tuscany, all tobacco varieties are grown in Italy, with the exception of Oriental tobaccos, produced only in Greece and Bulgaria.

The other EU producing countries, based on volumes, are: Spain, Poland and Greece (all between 15% and 16%), Bulgaria (9%), followed by Croatia, France, Germany and Hungary (all between 3% and 5% %), minor productions are recorded in Romania and Belgium.

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