Tobacco production in Mexico

Interested in learning about tobacco from Mexico? In this post we will address the history of the tobacco industry in Mexicoand its present panorama.  

Origin of Tobacco

Do you want to know more about the evolution of tobacco in Mexico? Read further…

Tobacco is native to the Americas. Scientists believe tobacco originated in the Andean highlands. Cultivation was thought to have begun as early as 6000 BC. Leaf blades likely were wilted, dried, and rolled to make primitive cigars.

Indigenous populations have used tobacco for centuries. Pre-Columbian paintings and structures display certain characters with some action related to tobacco.

It is believed that tobacco was distributed well outside its origins, throughout South America, into Mesoamerica and spread throughout the Eastern Woodlands of North America by 300 BC.

ripe tobacco leaves heaped on market
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on

History of Tobacco in México

Tobacco reached the lands occupied by the Mayan culture about 3,000 BC.

Tobacco N. tabacum grown in the historical ranges of Southern Mexico and Central America originated from the intersection of the two original species.

The Mayan Indigenous people cultivated a single species of tobacco called tobacco of the sierra or Indian tobacco in the region of the San Andrés Valley in the state of Veracruz, prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Then, it was a small plant.

By 987 AD. tobacco was cultivated in the states of Chiapas, Campeche, and Yucatán.

The San Andres Valley in the state of Veracruz is where the Mexican Tobacco Industry was born.

Upon Spanish dominion, the main producing region was Veracruz.

In the first half of the 1600’s tobacco cultivation in Mexico was produced intensively in the areas of Compostela, Oaxaca, Yucatan, and Veracruz.

By 1747, the best Mexican tobacco was produced in the areas of Veracruz, located in the Gulf of Mexico and Tepic, Nayarit, located in the Pacific. Consumption of tobacco in Mexico grew and soon there were more than three hundred cigar establishments. Tobacco was one of the greatest sources of wealth in the New Spain economy.

In 1764, a Spanish reformist plan established the Tobacco Monopoly in Mexico. Tobacco planting was allowed under strict supervision, only in the areas of Orizaba, Córdoba, and Zongolica, state of Veracruz, and Teuxitlan (Puebla).

In 1769, the monopoly of tobacco extended to the monopoly of the manufacture of cigars and the marketing process. Six large cigar and cigarette factories were created in the cities of Mexico, Puebla, Querétaro, Guadalajara, Oaxaca, and Orizaba.  

At the end of the 1700’s, tobacco represented for the Spanish crown an important commercial business with a corresponding large fortune.  

In the mid-1800’s, the valley of San Andrés located in the State of Veracruz, became one of the most renowned tobacco production centers in Mexico, due in part to having the same climate and land as Vuelta Abajo in Cuba.


The tobacco plant species is “nicotiana tabacum“. Tobacco, common name of the plant Nicotiana tabacum and to Aztec tobacco (N. rustica

The tobacco plant is a small tree or shrub with many branches that normally grows to over 2 yards. It has yellow tubular flowers about 5 cm long and 1 cm wide. 

The cultivated tobacco plant normally grows to one or two feet high. The five flower petals can be colored white, yellow, pink, or red. The tobacco fruit measures ½ inch and consists of a capsule containing two seeds.

The leaf blades are very large. The leaves are thick and rubbery.  They can grow to 20 inches long and 10 inches wide. The leaf shape can be ovate (egg-shaped), obcordate (heart-shaped) or elliptic (a small point at one end.)

Tobacco leaves grow toward the base of the plant. They are lobed or unlobed. The leaves appear alternately on the stem, with one leaf per node along the stem.  The underside of the leaf is fuzzy or hairy.

The nicotine is manufactured in the plant roots.

Features of Mexican Tobacco

Mexican tobaccos are classified into three groups: blond, dark, and aromatic.

Blonde Tobacco

The types of blond tobacco produced in Mexico are four:  Burley Semi Sombra, Burley Sombra Mata, Virginia Hornos and Virginia Sarta Sol. These vary according to the variety and form of drying. The drying of each of these types of tobacco possess unique characteristics.

Burley Semi Sombra, known as Burley Huixtla, is produced in Nayarit and Jalisco. It is dried in sarta, each leaf is cut individually.

Burley Sombra Mata tobacco is produced in the states of Nayarit and Jalisco. This tobacco dries in galerons (galleys), complete bushes are hung. The tobacco plant is harvested in mata, cutting it from its base. This variety of tobacco is also produced in Huixtla (Chiapas), in small quantities.

Vírginia Hornos tobacco is produced only in the state of Nayarit. This tobacco is dried in ovens through a process in which hot air circulates in a small space around the green tobacco leaves, dehydrated in a set manner.

Dark Tobacco

Dark tobacco is produced in the state of Veracruz. There are four commercial varieties: Tlapacoyan, Habano, Negro Jaltepec and Sumatra.

Tlapacoyan tobacco is produced in the northern area of Veracruz. It is air dried.Its destination is the Mexican cigar industry for the production of strong cigarettes.

Habano tobacco is produced in the northern area of Veracruz. It is harvested in leaves, air dried in galleys by producers and fermented. Habano tobacco is used in the production of strong cigarettes and the manufacture of cigars.

Negro Jaltepec is produced in the region of the Tuxtlas. It is fire dried and sorted into the following classes: First Dark, First Light, Second Dark, Second Light, Band, Dark Brown, Light Brown, Broken Brown, Fourth, Fifth, Past and Stung. These are used in cigarettes and in the manufacture of dark cigarettes.

faceless employees serving uncooked tobacco in factory
Photo by Thibault Luycx on

Sumatra tobacco is harvested in leaf, then fire dried. Once the drying process of Sumatran tobacco is completed, it is classified into sub-classes, then divided even more. Finally, it is used in the production of cigars.

Aromatic Tobacco

Aromatic tobacco, with its pleasant aroma, is used to make cigarettes.  Aromatic tobacco leaves can vary between 3 and 8 inches. Aromatic tobacco is harvested in leaf and by cutting, then sun dried. This variety is produced in the central valleys of Oaxaca.

Mexican Tobacco Habitat  

Tobacco is tropical. In the San Andreas Valley in the state of Veracruz and along the Gulf Coast   the soil is rich in volcanic ash. This region offers the best places for growing tobacco in Mexico and has a rich history of growing tobacco.

There are various parts of Mexico where tobacco grows spontaneously.

Tobacco Cultivation and Production in Mexico

In Mexico, tobacco has many variants, due to the different soils and climates. Also, the way cigarettes are made in Mexico essentially has not changed; leaves are dried, fermented, and aged. In the agricultural sector of Mexico, tobacco is a relatively minor crop, and cultivation remains stable. Tobacco is cultivated as an annual plant.

The state of Nayarit, a Pacific coast state, is the largest tobacco-producing state in Mexico. It accounts for 84% of national production. Tobacco is cultivated on 7,000 hectares of land in the state. There are 3,426 tobacco farmers in the state of Nayarit. Production in the state of Nayarit has doubled over the past five years.

Chiapas and Veracruz are two other states in Mexico that produce tobacco, accounting for 9% and 7% of national production respectively.

Tobacco Industry in Mexico

In the 1900’s, the production of clear cigars was introduced due to an increase in consumption of cigarettes of American mixture.

In the twenty first century, the tobacco industry in Mexico offered international markets a source of raw material and a potential market.

In 1972, Tabacos Mexicanos, S.A. (Mexican Tobaccos, Tabamex), a public sector company, was founded as the tobacco industry was nationalized in Mexico. Intervention then developed in the tobacco-growing regions and in agribusiness.

In 2018, the tobacco industry in Mexico was 7th in producer ranking in America.

Between 2010 and 2019, the tobacco industry in Mexico experienced a decreasing trend in cigarette exports.

Presently, the tobacco sector is a minor industry in Mexico. It has decreased its production and represents a small sector of the economy of Mexico.

Tobacco Traditions in Mexico

A long tradition of the Mayans is the sacredness of tobacco. It is considered a supernatural, powerful plant, key in traditional medicine, and associated with Maya deities of the earth and sky. Tobacco has been used by the Mayans for ritual and religious celebrations.

In Mexico, tobacco began to be smoked as soon as the clay pipe was invented, approximately in 9 AD.

Based on its characteristics, tobacco has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes. Some indigenous peoples used tobacco in poultices to treat swellings, bruises, cuts, wounds, boils, sores, inflamed throat, and swollen glands.

Mexican Tobacco Companies

Of the roughly 400,000 kilos of tobacco produced in Mexico, 60% are held by well-known brands.

It is interesting to know which are the leading tobacco companies in Mexican tobacco production.

One of the most successful tobacco brands in Mexico is Philip Morris, the owner of Marlboro, having a 64.2% share of the Mexican market.

This company produces 26,000 million cigarettes a year for domestic production and for export to more than 20 countries.

British American Tobacco, owner of Pall Mall and Lucky Strike, has 29.33% of the tobacco market and has a production of approximately 22,000 million cigarettes. The multinational company British American Tobacco (BAT) controls 55% of tobacco production in the state of Nayarit.

Mexican Cigars

There are 44 brands of Mexican cigars.


faceless worker peeling tobacco leaves near heap of sausages in factory
Photo by Thibault Luycx on


Agri-food and Fisheries Information Service, Government of Mexico

Groark KP.  The Angel in the Gourd: Ritual, Therapeutic, and Protective Uses of Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) Among the Tzeltal and Tzotzil Maya of Chiapas, Mexico. Journal of Ethnobiology. 2010

Zagorevski DV, and Loughmiller-Newman JA. The detection of nicotine in a Late Mayan period flask by gas chromatography and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry methods. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry. 2012 .