Is smoking harmful to plants?

white unlit cigarette end with tobacco fibers
Photo credit: banger1977
Q:

We received a handful of tomato starts from a friend who occasionally smokes "at a distance" from their home/family (don't know how far, but goal is to not smell of anything around family/house). How wary/careful should we be about these starts possibly being infected, and if so, what precautionary measures should we take? We're probably going to just return the gift, but since there are still a number of smokers in our town, is there a concern about any airborne particles affecting us?

- Coos County, Oregon
A:

There are several viruses which can infect tobacco. Most are vectored by insect pest and are not easily spread mechanically. However there is a virus, called Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV) which can be spread mechanically through touch or physical movement of tobacco residue. TMV infects a wide host range of plants, including plants in the tomato family. For this reason, it is not recommended to smoke in a greenhouse or handle tobacco products in a greenhouse. Workers should wash their hands after handling tobacco products and before entering the greenhouse. The risk of spreading tobacco mosaic virus through cigarettes or containers is relatively low, but still possible. For more information on tobacco mosaic virus, see here.

Ben Beale
Agricultural Science Educator
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