History of nicotine

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Historia nikotyny

Nicotine is a colourless, odourless and oily liquid that is obtained from tobacco leaves by steam distillation in an alkaline medium and extraction with ether. Nicotine is an organic chemical compound that is derived from the pyridine alkaloid group.

The history of nicotine in a nutshell

Jean Nicot – it is after this French physician and diplomat at the Portuguese court that nicotine is named. This man extolled the medical properties of tobacco. In 1560, he gave a box of tobacco powder to Catherine de Medici in Paris as an antidote for migraine.

Nicotine was first isolated in 1828. 1843 was the year when the chemical structure of nicotine was discovered. It was first obtained in 1904 .

The history of nicotine over the years

Smoking tobacco leaves has accompanied humans for many years. As early as 1492, Americans noticed that tobacco leaves were being smoked by Indians in the Antillean Islands. However, the history of tobacco smoking goes back much earlier. The history of tobacco dates back to before our era. Back then, tobacco was smoked to perform tribal rituals. Over time, tobacco began to be used as a painkiller. It was used to treat earaches, toothaches, tuberculosis and colds. In subsequent years, tobacco was smoked in specially hollowed-out cane sticks or rolled corn leaves were used and ‘cigars’ were created.

In 1560, the aforementioned Jean Nicot brought tobacco to France, where it was initially used and cultivated as an ornamental plant. Very soon, the plant was found to have harmful effects on the human body.

  • 1809 – Vauquelin raises the alarm about the volatile properties of tobacco’s toxic agent,
  • 1828 – Posselt and Reimann isolated nicotine in its pure form,
  • years later, the chemical structure of nicotine was discovered,
  • 1904 – A. Pictet performs a synthesis that confirms the structure of nicotine.

Interestingly, the first factory producing cigarettes was established in Cuba, in Havana in 1853.

Today, we all know the harmful effects of nicotine, but not so long ago, this was not popular knowledge. One should cite here the figure of Dr Jeffrey S. Wigand, who was employed by a tobacco company. In 1993, he was fired because he started to raise the alarm about the harmfulness of nicotine and, moreover, demanded the withdrawal of coumarin, which was added to pipe tobacco.

Less than a year after these events, the CEOs of some of the largest tobacco companies testified under oath that they had no knowledge that nicotine was addictive. The investigation revealed that these companies had been funding a campaign to misinform the public about nicotine since 1976.


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