January 26, 2007

Hard Facts about Tobacco

Filed under: Adaptation, Climate History, Plants

The time of year has arrived for you begin to assess how much progress you are making in your New Year’s Resolutions. Been spending time at the gym? Losing weight? Quit smoking? Believe it or not, it is possible that the increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) just might be helping you achieve the latter. Read more to see how (as to the two former, you’re on your own).

Although the anti-tobacco crusade is huge, equally huge is a never-ending campaign to link tobacco to global warming. The internet contains over a million sites on global warming and tobacco – is there really that much concern for the fate of the tobacco plants given a world of elevated greenhouse gas concentrations and higher temperatures? No, the big link between global warming and tobacco has a lot to do with funding of science – the global warming crowd loves to use the analogy that 30 years ago, tobacco industries funded scientists to deny the health risk of smoking and that today, some prominent greenhouse skeptics are funded by coal and oil companies to deny the facts about global warming. Whenever the global warming advocates play the “tobacco card,” it is a sure sign that they cannot compete with facts and hard science regarding the global warming debate.

At the time of the year when smokers get pressured to stop, we decided to search around and find some good news about the buildup of greenhouse gases and smoking. It took seconds, and we quickly found a recent article in Plant, Cell and Environment that seriously examines the link between tobacco and elevated levels of CO2, and there may be some good news for smokers all over the world. There may also be a lesson or two from this study about the future of the biosphere given the promise of elevated CO2 concentrations.

Tobacco is a member of the global ecosystem, whether the anti-smoking campaign likes it or not. Despite their campaign against Big Tobacco, the World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion people smoke, about one-third of the global population aged 15 and older. Of that 1.1 billion, 800 million of the world’s smokers are from developing nations. The market for tobacco products is increasing tremendously given current global economic growth, and Marlboro (Philip Morris), Mild Seven (Japan Tobacco), Winston (R.J. Reynolds), L&M (Philip Morris), Camel (R.J. Reynolds), and Benson & Hedges (PM/British American Tobacco/AB) are selling their tobacco products everywhere including many of the poorest nations on earth. Given that global demand, there is more tobacco being grown today than ever before and given the economic importance of the crop, we suspect much more research will be conducted on tobacco and elevated CO2 concentrations in the years to come.

OK, here’s the latest news from the work on tobacco conducted by a team of experts at Germany’s Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research. Matros et al. purchased tobacco seeds described as “the highest quality available” and germinated them in a greenhouse where they grew for four weeks. The plants were then transferred into pots and placed in controlled environment chambers with atmospheric CO2 levels maintained at 350 ppm and 1,000 ppm. The tobacco plants grew in the chambers for two weeks, and some of the plants were then inoculated with a sure-to-be harmful potato virus. The experiment lasted another four weeks, and then the plants were harvested, thoroughly washed, and then frozen with liquid nitrogen at -80°C. There is no evidence that anyone on the Matros et al. team smoked any of the plants used in the experiment – what a shame given the high-quality seeds they started with?

The scientists begin their article noting that “Growth of plants under elevated CO2 frequently leads to increased growth rates,” but that was not the focus of their study. Many others have grown tobacco in elevated CO2 and confirmed that tobacco, like virtually every other plant in the world, benefits from higher concentrations of CO2. Matros et al. made a series of measurements on how elevated CO2 impacts nicotine, and they conclude that “Cultivation of tobacco plants at elevated CO2 leads to a marked decrease of nicotine, the major nitrogen-rich secondary metabolite in tobacco at lower nitrogen supply” and “At higher nitrogen supply, nicotine content was not further influenced by CO2.” See, if you are trying to quit smoking, elevated CO2 is your friend and it generally acts to lower the nicotine level of the plants!

Recall that some of the plants were inoculated with the dreaded potato virus, and the team concludes “As a main result we could show that growing tobacco at elevated CO2 was followed by modified profiles of secondary metabolites, and that these alterations are accompanied by an increased virus resistance” and that the “spread of the virus was reduced at the whole plant level” all thanks to higher levels of CO2.

None of this is surprising, for tobacco, like plants everywhere, grows faster, more efficient in terms of water use, and as seen in this study, more resistant to diseases and other stresses as CO2 increases. As revealed by the Matros et al. work, elevated CO2 tends to reduce the nicotine levels that got you hooked on smoking in the first place. Once again, there is a lot good to say about living in a world with higher levels of CO2.

The global warmers have generated a million websites featuring their ridiculous comparison between tobacco scientists who denied the health consequences of smoking and almost any scientist who questions one word of the popularized presentations of the greenhouse effect – global warming issue. If you are interested in serious scientific research on tobacco and elevated CO2, you had to come to the World Climate Report.

Let’s all have a wonderful 2007 knowing that CO2 concentrations are certain to continue rising leading to a positive biological response for all plants throughout the world, including tobacco.


Matros, A., S. Amme, B. Kettig, G.H. Buck-Sorlin, U. Sommewald, and H.-P. Mock. 2006. Growth at elevated CO2 concentrations leads to modified profiles of secondary metabolites in tobacco cv. SamsunNN and to increased resistance against infection with potato virus Y. Plant, Cell and Environment, 29, 126–137.

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