The caterpillars are serious pests of a number of landscape flowers, including rose, but may favor the flowers of geraniums and petunias where they feed on the developing flower buds as well as the petals of the fully opened flower. They badly destroy or completely remove the flowers, leading to a loss of the aesthetic value of these plants. In agriculture they attack tobacco, as their name suggests, as well as alfalfa, cotton, and occasional other crops. This is primarily a warm climate pest that migrates to northern states with the summer months but overwinters and breeds most often in the southern states.
The larvae also feed on a wide variety of weeds, and removing weeds from landscaped areas reduces food opportunities for them. Early treatment with insecticides when the first feeding damage is noticed will reduce the population and prevent production of breeding adult moths. A great many parasitic and predaceous insects feed on the caterpillars and should be encouraged where possible.