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Tobacco Industry: Sources of Historical Research

General History

Carol Highsmith, photographer. Lush tobacco crop at the L.W. Paul Living History Farm, a historical museum complex near Conway in Horry County, South Carolina, 2017. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Tobacco has been important to the American economy for much of the country's history. The British government taxed it, and because of its importance, the new United States government also regulated the growth and sale of tobacco and tobacco products in some fashion usually via taxes, from its founding.1 Beyond that, some regulation also occurred at the state level, most often related to the anti-smoking and anti-cigarette movement. This guide doesn't focus on the legal aspects of regulation, but below are just a few events to note as they might help expand research options.

  • Agriculture Adjustment Act of 1938. Pub. Law 75-430 (52 Stat. 31) was enacted in February 1938 and is sometimes referred to as the Federal Tobacco Program. It established a supply control and price support program for tobacco.
  • Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). This agreement entered into in 1998, grew out of a number of legal cases and was between the four largest United States tobacco companies (Philip Morris Inc., R. J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson and Lorillard as the "original participating manufacturers") and the Attorneys General of 46 states.
  • Fair and Equitable Tobacco Reform. This was part of Title VI of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 (P.L 108-357) and it eliminated tobacco quota and price support programs at the end of the 2004 crop year.
  • Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. This legislation, also referred to as the Tobacco Control Act (PL 111 31), gave the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate the manufacture, distribution, and marketing of tobacco products.
  • Tobacco 21 (T21). Historically the minimum age for the purchase of tobacco products is set by state and federal laws, but on December 20, 2019 P.L.116–94 [PDF, 1,993 KB] (133 Stat. 3123) was signed into law and Section 906(d) set the federal minimum age to purchases of tobacco products at 21 and made the Food and Drug Administration responsible for enforcement.

Books & Periodicals

These sources provide an overview of the history of tobacco as a crop and economic driver in the history of the United States.

If you are looking for information on specific states see the Tobacco in the States page of this guide. If you are looking for older trade periodicals see the subpage in the Research the Industry part of this guide. For those looking to research the Colonial time period, we have Colonies in America: Commerce, Business, and the Economy that includes sources related to business and commerce in the American colonies prior to the American Revolution.

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are provided when available.


  1. "Tobacco Taxation in the United States," by Ismael Zayas. National Library of Medicine, Committee on Preventing Nicotine Addiction in Children and Youths, 1994. Back to text