Insecticidal Properties of Tobacco Leaves for Organic Farming: A Short Review

By: Dr. Salman Ahmad, Ph.D. Agronomy 

[email protected]

Tobacco is one of the famous botanicals. Tobacco leaves extract is being used to control agricultural pests in different countries for centuries. Around the 1st century BC, it was famous for its medicinal properties and was used to cure certain illnesses like sore eyes, bowel problems, insect bites and burns. The tobacco plant is native to northern America. It has wide adaptability and can be grown on plain land, wetlands, forest and mountains. 

tobacco leaves

Tobacco leaves naturally contain many chemicals having insecticidal properties (table 1 & 2). Tobacco was first used as an insecticide in 1690 against the pear-lace bug. In the late seventeenth and early eighteen centuries, it was used as an insecticide in England and America against different aphid species, red spiders and lice. The main pesticidal compounds in tobacco are nicotine, nor-nicotine and anabasine. Nicotine can be synthesized artificially, but natural products are far cheaper and preferred. Tobacco leaves contain about 3% nicotine on a dry matter basis which is the main insecticidal constituent of tobacco. In the beginning, tobacco was used as a fumigant to control pests, but due to rapid dermal absorption of nicotine by mammals and health issues, it is now used in an aqueous solution form.

Table 1: Chemical Composition of Tobacco Leaves’ Extract of Different Tobacco Species

tobacco leaves species

Source: Sissor and Severson, (1990)

Table 2: Mode of Action of Different Pesticidal Compounds Found in Tobacco Leaf Extract

tobacco leaves proeprties

Scientific evidence of pesticidal effects of tobacco

 Rajpoot et al. (2017) tested different biopesticides against pink cotton bollworm and found a significant effect of tobacco leaf extract against larva of pink bollworm on both Bt and non-Bt cotton.

 Baskaran and Narayanasamy (1995) reported that the aqueous extract of tobacco leaves significantly affects aphids, thrips, and beetles.

 Amoabeng et al. (2013) prepared tobacco leaf extract in water containing 0.1% detergent and sprayed it against a diamondback moth in a cabbage field. The results were surprisingly interesting. Tobacco extract resulted in a 93% reduction in larval population while synthetic pesticide (cyhalothrin) used resulted in only 51% control on larvae of diamondback moth population. 

 Tobacco extract is highly effective against peach moths (98%) and twig borer (99%), as reported by  Trandafirescu et al. (2013).

 Kawuki et al. (2005) found excellent results of tobacco crude extract on bruchid beetle (up to 90%) in Uganda.

 Ogbalu et al. (2014) found significant mortality of housefly larvae within 48 hours after spraying of aqueous extract of tobacco leaves @ 3ug/ml concentration.

 Patel et al. (1990) reported that nicotine sulphate isolated from tobacco leaf extract was a toxin to aphids and gave significant control on aphids.

 In 2002 a lectin named NICTABA was discovered in tobacco leaves which is highly effective against lepidopteran insect larvae.

 Wuryantini et al. (2021) prepared tobacco extract in methanol and found it very effective against citrus psyllids and aphids. Even the efficacy of tobacco extract was more than synthetic pesticides (dimethoate and imidacloprid).

 Potera  (2013) documented that tobacco bio-oil (leaf extract in water) 100% killed the Colorado beetle of potato. Besides this, it also significantly blocked the growth of bacteria and fungus responsible for potato scab disease. Similar effects were also found in pepper, tomato, eggplant and lettuce.

Suggestions to Use Tobacco Leaves

 Tobacco is a toxin to birds and other friendly insects (honey bees, ladybird beetle, etc.). So, its dose should be suggested keeping in view the crop type and types of friend insects.

 Different environmental variables, especially temperature, on tobacco biopesticide efficacy should be studied.

 The efficacy of tobacco solutions in different solvents (alcohol, ether, ethanol) should also be investigated.

 Residual effects of biopesticides, especially on edible crops, must be explored.


Amoabeng BW, Gurr GM, Gitau CW, Nicol HI, Munyakazi L, Stevenson PC. Tri-trophic insecticidal effects of African plants against cabbage pests. PloS One. 2013; 8: e78651. PMID: 24205287

Bakhite, E. A., Abd-Ella, A. A., El-Sayed, M. E., & Abdel-Raheem, S. A. (2017). Pyridine derivatives as insecticides. Part 2: Synthesis of some piperidinium and morpholinium cyanopyridinethiolates and their Insecticidal Activity. Journal of Saudi Chemical Society21(1), 95-104.

Fowsiya, J., & Madhumitha, G. (2020). A Review of Bioinsecticidal Activity and Mode of Action of Plant Derived Alkaloids. Research Journal of Pharmacy and Technology13(2), 963-973.

Fowsiya, J., & Madhumitha, G. (2020). A Review of Bioinsecticidal Activity and Mode of Action of Plant Derived Alkaloids. Research Journal of Pharmacy and Technology13(2), 963-973.

Gavilano, L. B., Coleman, N. P., Bowen, S. W., & Siminszky, B. (2007). Functional analysis of nicotine demethylase genes reveals insights into the evolution of modern tobacco. Journal of Biological Chemistry282(1), 249-256.

Goodman, J. (2005). Tobacco in history: The cultures of dependence. Routledge.Baskaran V, Narayanasamy P. Traditional Pest Control. Caterpillar Publications. Mariyappa Nagar, Tamilnadu, India. 1995; p.91.

Kawuki R, Agona A, Nampala P, Adipala E. A comparison of the effectiveness of plant-based and synthetic insecticides in the field management of pod and storage pests of cowpea. Crop             Protect. 2005; 24: 473±478.

Kuete, V. (2014). Health effects of alkaloids from African medicinal plants. In Toxicological survey of African medicinal plants (pp. 611-633). Elsevier.

 Ogbalu, O.K., Bobmanuel, R.B., Membere, O., 2014. Larvicidal effect of aqueous leaf

Potera, C. (2011). INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGIES: Tobacco Bio-oil Kills Agricultural Pests.

Prakash, A., Rao, J., & Nandagopal, V. (2008). Future of botanical pesticides in rice, wheat, pulses and vegetables pest management. Journal of Biopesticides1(2), 154-169.

Rajput, I. A., Syed, T. S., Abro, G. H., Khatri, I., & Lodhi, A. M. (2017). Effect of different plant extracts against pink bollworm, Pectinophora gossypiella (Saund.) larvae on Bt. and non-Bt. cotton. Pakistan Journal of Agricultural Research30(4).

Sisson, V. A., & Severson, R. F. (1990). Alkaloid composition of the Nicotiana species. Beiträge             zur Tabakforschung International/Contributions to Tobacco Research14(6), 327-339.

 Weber, S. S., Kaminski, K. P., Perret, J. L., Leroy, P., Mazurov, A., Peitsch, M. C., ... & Hoeng, J. (2019). Antiparasitic properties of leaf extracts derived from selected Nicotiana species and Nicotiana tabacum varieties. Food and Chemical Toxicology132, 110660.

Wuryantini, S., Endarto, O., Wicaksono, R. C., & Yudistira, R. A. (2021, May). Utilization of plant waste as a botanical pesticide for citrus pest control. In IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science (Vol. 749, No. 1, p. 012022). IOP Publishing.

Potera C. (2011). Tobacco bio-oil kills agricultural pests. Environmental health perspectives119(1), A18. 

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