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Before its discovery by the Europeans and the rest of the world, Tobacco had been well known in the Americas for centuries, being a vital part of social and spiritual life for numerous native peoples throughout distance and time. Thought to have originated in northern South America since at least 6000 BCE, by 1 BCE indigenous peoples were employing tobacco in ritual and medicine. The word itself originates from the Taíno "Tobago"; it is unclear whether it was a roll of tobacco leaves intended for smoking, nowadays called cigar, or a small V-shaped cane tube used to administer snuff; not the plant itself, or its leaves.

After European contact, tobacco would become a valued trading commodity, as the stimulant effects of nicotine, an important alkaloid present in tobacco, gave it great appeal to its Old World discoverers. The recreative aspect was to supplant the spiritual significance that tobacco had in the land of its origins, entirely disregarded in a Christian context, even becoming associated with witchcraft. However, tobacco also became regarded in Europe as a panacea, a medicine to cure any illness, and since the 16th century CE it became widespread among the elite, where the custom of snuffing, smoking, and chewing became popular. By late 19th century CE, cigarettes arose in popularity. James Bonsack created a machine that automated cigarette production. This increase in production allowed tremendous growth in the tobacco industry until the health revelations of the late-20th century, when tobacco became condemned as a health hazard, and eventually became encompassed as a cause for cancer, as well as other respiratory and circulatory diseases.

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