At one time tobacco was the dominant industry in North Carolina. It is still significant, but certainly less so than in the past. N.C. Cooperative Extension economist Mike Walden says that as smoking rates have declined, tobacco producers shifting to new uses for their products.
“I think this really shows how dynamic our economy is — and in particular industries are — because what we are seeing in the tobacco area, clearly the bulk of tobacco production goes in still to cigarettes and smoking products, but a growing part of the tobacco industry is focusing in the medical area.
“Some very interesting companies in North Carolina are doing this work. For example, one tobacco company is looking at using tobacco components to help develop drugs to treat nervous system disorders like Alzheimer’s. The link here is that tobacco is being linked with its nicotine receptors to the nervous system.
“Another company is using tobacco plants to produce proteins used in flu vaccines, and many think that this will be a faster and cheaper way to develop flu vaccines rather that the current process.
“So this I think is just extremely exciting. It shows that businesses and industries and products can shift their focus very quickly. And I guess it goes back to that old adage that, yes, indeed you can teach old dogs new tricks.”