The Encyclopaedia Britannica states that "although the fact has been controverted, there cannot be a doubt that the knowledge of tobacco and its uses came to the rest of the world from America. As the continent was opened up and explored, it became evident that the consumption of tobacco, especially by smoking, was a universal and immemorial usage, in many cases bound up with the most significant and solemn tribal ceremonials." The name "tobacco" was originally the name of the appliance in which it was smoked and not of the plant itself, just as the term "chowder" comes from the vessel (chaudiere) in which the compound was prepared. The tobacco plant was first taken to Europe in 1558, by Francisco Fernandez, a physician who had been sent to Mexico by Philip II to investigate the products of that country. The English, however, appear to have been the first Europeans to adopt the smoking habit, and Sir Walter Raleigh was notable for his indulgence in the weed. He is said to have called for a solacing pipe just before his execution. Very soon after their arrival, in 1607, the Virginia settlers engaged in the cultivation of tobacco, and it soon became the most important commercial product of the colony. Smoking, as practiced in this country, appears to have been largely, and perhaps only, by means of pipes generally similar to those now in use. The contents of ancient Indian mounds, or tumuli, opened in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, show the use of pipes by the aborigines probably centuries before the discoveries by Columbus. Many were elaborately carved in porphyry or some other hard stone, while others were made of baked clay. Others, many of them also elaborately carved and ornamented, have been found in Mexico. Roman antiquities show many pipes, but they do not show the use of tobacco. It is assumed that they were used for burning incense, or for smoking some aromatic herb or hemp.

The first knowledge of the use of the plant in Cuba was in November, 1492, when Columbus, on landing near Nuevitas, sent his messengers inland to greet the supposed ruler of a supposed great Asiatic empire. Washington Irving thus reports the story as it was told by Navarete, the Spanish historian. Referring to those messengers, he says: "They beheld several of the natives going about with firebrands in their hands, and certain dried herbs which they rolled up in a leaf, and lighting one end, put the other in their mouths, and continued exhaling and puffing out the smoke. A roll of this kind they called a tobacco, a name since transferred to the plant of which the rolls were made. The Spaniards, although prepared to meet with wonders, were struck with astonishment at this singular and apparently nauseous indulgence." A few years later, a different method was reported, by Columbus, as employed in Hispaniola. This consisted of inhaling the fumes of the leaf through a Y-shaped device applied to the nostrils. This operation is said to have produced intoxication and stupefaction, which appears to have been the desired result. The old name still continues in Cuba, and if a smoker wants a cigar, he will get it by calling for a "tobacco." The production of the plant is, next to sugar, Cuba's most important commercial industry. Its early history is only imperfectly known. There was probably very little commercial production during the 16th Century, for the reason that there was then no demand for it. The demand came in the first half of the 17th Century, and by the middle of that period tobacco was known and used in practically all civilized countries. The demand for it spread very rapidly, in spite of papal fulminations and penal enactments. For a time, in Russia, the noses of smokers were cut off. The early part of the 18th Century saw Cuba actively engaged in production and shipment. In 1717, Cuba's tobacco was made a monopoly of the Spanish Government. Under that system, production was regulated and prices were fixed by the agents of the government, in utter disregard of the welfare of the producers. As a result, several serious riots occurred. In 1723, a large number of planters refused to accept the terms offered by the officials, and destroyed the crops of those who did accept, a condition repeated in the State of Kentucky a few years ago, the only difference being that in the Cuban experience the monopolist was the Government, and in Kentucky it was a corporation. A few years later, in 1734, the Cuban monopoly was sold to Don Jose Tallapiedra who contracted to ship to Spain, annually, three million pounds of tobacco. The contract was afterward given to another, but control was resumed by the Crown, in 1760. Finally, in 1817, cultivation and trade were declared to be free, subject only to taxation.