Europeans taught the Ottomans how to cultivate and cure tobacco, although over time the Turks perfected their own methods of growing, curing, smoking, and using tobacco; particularly, the Turks began using hookahs to smoke tobacco. Of course, the nature of the soil in Turkey is far different that what it was in warm climates in the Americas, affecting the flavor and intensity of the tobacco leaf. Unique Turkish tobacco has grown to be a billion dollar business along with a billion dollar health problem
What is now considered to be the finest Turkish tobacco was originally cultivated in a region called Macedonia in Greece. (Ironically, Grecian tobacco today uses what is considered to be the Turkish seed). The reason it is considered to be Turkish tobacco is because the Ottoman’s took control over Macedonia and brought seeds from Macedonia’s Yenice leaf back to the Black Sea Coast in Turkey. The Yenice, Drama, Xanthe, and Smyrna leaves (named after their towns) are Turkish tobaccos from Greece, whereas the Western Turksih towns Izmir and Samsun are where Turkish tobacco grows in Turkey. In fact, Turkish tobacco is rather mild, so in order to get the fine Turkish blend, it is actually mixed with Virginian and Burley tobacco to make it more full-flavored. Turkish tobacco, sans blend, is not only very mild-flavored, but it is low in nicotine and carcinogenic substances.
The small Turkish tobacco leaf is famous worldwide. In fact, various farmers around the world have cultivated it on their soil, but have had the seed imported from Turkey. In 1907, Turkey actually prohibited the export of tobacco seed. Today, tobacco products are openly traded, however Turkey could still claim Turkish tobacco as a geographic indication because its flavor and color is affected by the soil and air quality around it. South African farmers may be using Turkish seed, but they are not on the same soil, nor do they use the same process of treating the tobacco leaves. The best quality Turkish tobacco leaves undergo lengthy treatment and are mildly fermented.
South Africa is not the only country that grows Turkish tobacco. Italy produces two principal types of tobacco including a dark heavy Virginian tobacco on northern Italy’s heavy soils, and a Turkish type that grows on the sandy soils of southern Italy. Syria grows an especially distinctive Latakia tobacco in the Saida province of northern Syria. It is distinctive in part because it is subjected to smoke produced by burning a certain species of living evergreen oak branches from seven to nine months. It is during this fumigation process that the tobacco gains its black color and interesting flavor. In the case of Latakia tobacco, not only could the product be protected by its distinctive origin where specific soils and evergreens give it the quality it is known for, but its fumigation process could be protected as well. Although Latakia tobacco is considered to be a Turkish tobacco, it has earned its own distinctive taste and name.
Today, Grecian tobacco uses the Turkish seed, and it closely resembles Turkish tobacco. In this case, perhaps Turkey could claim its tobacco seed as a geographic indication, in which case Greece wouldn’t be allowed to grow tobacco. Interestingly, the paper industry is monopolized in Greece, so Grecian cigarette manufacturers actually produce most 'Egyptian cigarettes' in Egypt using Grecian tobacco. If Turkey was able to make claims on the Turksih tobacco seed, it could have any one of numerous effects on the industry. Turkey could take over the entire Turkish seed tobacco market by being the only possible world producer of Turkish tobacco, therefore driving up world prices for Turkish tobacco. Perhaps Greecian tobacco farmers would plant other species of Nicotiana or create hybrids of even better tasting, less carcinogenic tobacco plants.
If Turkey had a right to claim a tobacco seed, process of production, or blend of cigarette, what would stop Virginia from claiming the Turkish tobacco seed and plant (Nicotiana rustica) as its own property? Could, then, the Native American tribes that introduced the Europeans to their plant and timeless tradition claim Turkish tobacco? The intellectual property claim on any type of tobacco is not only dependent upon its origins, but its reputation due to its uniquely geographic characteristics.
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