Professor Christina Cogdell
December 6, 2018
Raw Materials for Cigarettes
When people think of smoking, just about everyone knows that the habit is bad for the body and can assume that cigarettes are full of toxic chemicals. Regardless of the dangers of smoking, the tobacco industry continues to be a powerhouse within consumers seeing a bigger profit more and more each year. According to the Tobacco Atlas, in 2010, Big Tobacco’s (the five leading tobacco companies: Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands, Japan Tobacco International, and China Tobacco) combined profits were equal to that of Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Microsoft combined expressing the significance of a cigarette being similar to that of a food or technology companies. This being that the tobacco industry estimates an income of $35 billion but also are to blame for six million annual deaths. Despite various antismoking advertisements and messages shown every day and more over clearly stating that smoking can lead to cancer thus leading to death, people smoke cigarettes every day. This can vary for multiple reasons such as social acceptance and/or peer pressure, celebrity influence, weight loss or a coping mechanism as some people smoke to relax or reduce stress but in the end the effect to the body is always the same and leads to serious health issues. The reason behind these serious health issues is because people are correct in believing that cigarettes contain toxic chemicals, but one thing is simply knowing the general fact, another is actually fully understanding what goes into the making of a cigarette. The American Lung Association has stated that there are about 600 ingredients in cigarettes but when burned they create more than 7,000 chemicals, 250 of these are known to be harmful and sixty-nine within that group are known to cause cancer. With such a known statistic, this report is focused on taking a deeper look into the materials used during the manufacturing phase, the carcinogens added to cigarettes, and the overall view of how the process and product itself are both deleterious to our environment.
When growing and harvesting the primary tobacco plant, the process of this is typically like any other crop. This includes planting seeds requiring good soil and mulch, watering, allowing sunlight, and adding chemicals to protect the plant from frost damage or insect attacks and allow a healthy growth. Over the years the tools for all this has changed as technology advanced and to be more efficient, before the industrial revolution tobacco fields were harvested with pure manual labor. According to a report on LeafOnly.com titled “Tobacco Leaf Harvesting, Curing, and Fermenting,” there are two ways to harvest tobacco: “The oldest known method in use is simply cutting off the stalk at the ground using a curved knife. The other way to harvest tobacco leaves originated in the nineteenth century. They started to harvest the tobacco plant by pulling individual leaves off the stalk as they ripened,” (“Tobacco Leaf Harvesting, 1) After this step, the plants were handed to stringers who would wrap the plants onto a pole, hung and loaded onto wagons pulled by animals to be color-cured. Now mostly all these tasks are done by diesel fueled machines and tractors which are operated by people. The significance behind this is that less tools and materials are now used to harvest the crop which saves many costs, it is faster also saving many costs but at the one vital cost of using fossil fuels to power the machines which emit carbon monoxide (CO2) into the environment.
It is important to know that the curing phase is necessary for the tobacco plant since initially the leaves are too green, and moist to burn. To cure the tobacco plants, a specific barn must be used and one out of three curing methods which include air, flue, or fire. Each curing method still has some sort of negative impact on the environment though, since this process requires heat the plants are either artificially heated wasting electricity or the use of fire, once again emitting CO2. Notably, in an article on the Thomson Reuters Foundation News website titled “Tobacco farms drive major deforestation in Tanzania,” it states that, “Cutting of trees for firewood to cure tobacco over the last few decades has been a major driver of deforestation and worsening...” (Makoye 1) which requires either full on man power or some type of machine to tear down the grand trunk which continues to destructively effect environments, now losing more wildlife. During the curing phase, the leaves dry and produce compounds that give it distinguished flavors contributing to the “smoothness” of the later consumed cigarette. Artificial flavors are added alongside these natural forming flavors which assist in the amount of revenue seen from consumers which is already beginning to elongate even more the list of chemicals used in cigarettes. In a documentary provided by the Food and Drug Administration titled “Chemicals in Every Cigarette,” it is stated that while the plant is curing, carcinogens naturally begin to form. These are called tobacco-specific nitrosamines, or T.S.N.A.’s and these carcinogens differ depending on the method chosen for curing. Once this step is completed the leaves are sorted by grade based off of size, color and quality and bundled up. It is then shipped and sorted once again for government inspection then finally auctioned to cigarette manufacturers. Unfortunately, during both shipment phases they are hauled by vehicles which again is emitting CO2 which increases even more the levels of the gas during this production process.
Finally, we get into the more interesting part of the process, to find out just what type of chemicals the manufacturers add onto the leaves. According to a small description alongside the video provided by the Food and Drug Association, they state, “…manufactures may use additives to enhance product flavor and reduce harshness. But some of these added chemicals can also cause harm” (Chemicals in Every Cigarette 1) and one of these chemicals being ammonia, which is a common used household cleaner. “Ammonia compounds can change how easily nicotine can be absorbed into the body, which can make the cigarette more addictive. Added sugars, when burned, become carcinogens” (Chemicals in Every Cigarette 1) which are absorbed by the mouth and lungs but beside creating the cigarette and smoking it, simply by lighting it leads to the creation of much more toxic chemicals. In a list provided by the American Lung Association on their website, here are some more examples of just a few chemicals that are added to cigarettes: acetone which is found in nail polish remover, arsenic which is used in rat poison, benzene which is found in rubber cement, butane which is used in lighter fluid, cadmium which is an active component in battery acid, lead which is used in batteries, methanol which is a main component in rocket fuel, nicotine which is used as an insecticide, tar which is a material for paving roads and toluene which is used to manufacture paint. Within the factory, in order to input these chemicals to the tobacco leaves, machines are used to spray them, then after the blending sent to be pressed and shredded thus using electricity a lot of energy for this big step in the process. According to a descriptive report titled “Cigarette” on the How Products are Made website, it states that to finalize the cigarette, “The final shredded tobacco is then dispersed over a continuous roll of cigarette paper. A machine rolls the shredded tobacco into the paper and cuts it to the desired length. A device then grabs each cigarette and fastens a filter in one end. Modern cigarette machines can produce 25-30 cigarettes a second” (Cigarette 1). Once again this is using big, heavy machinery which requires a great amount of electricity to operate. The final step is packaging twenty cigarettes to one paper carton, then sealed in cellophane.
The cigarette moves onto the next phase which is consumption which requires some type of fire source in order to ignite it which of course is emitted the various toxic chemicals into the atmosphere and not only affecting the consumer but any living being within the vicinity. Then onto its waste phase and unfortunately, the cigarette itself now becomes destructive because consumers regularly just flick away the cigarette butt rather than properly throw it away which then end up in oceans and destroying that ecosystem along with many other wildlife enviornments. In a statistical report provided by Longwood University titled “Cigarette Butt Litter,” it explains how cigarette butts are the most found piece of trash and back in 2007 it consisted 38% of the worldwide debris. This percentage was already an increased number compared to its previous years so a decade later more than likely it has significantly increased since Big Tobacco continues to see an increase in revenue.
It is sad to see and come to the acceptance that people who smoke just do not care about the damage they are doing to their bodies. The purpose of this paper is so that readers can get yet another idea of all the toxic chemicals and materials and the long process it takes to create cigarettes and just how harmful this product is. All the tools, materials and steps from the growing and harvesting, to preparing the leaves, to forming the cigarette, to using the product and lastly to not even properly throw away the cigarette is just extremely damaging. The level of destruction this “cancer” has, compared to its life span only being lit for no more than five minutes, is too detrimental for people, wildlife and the Earth itself. Regardless for the reason to smoke cigarettes, it is not worth it to harm the human body and all the surroundings so please pass on the message: value life and quit smoking.
Life Cycle of a Cigarette Assessment Bibliography
American Cancer Society. “Tobacco Industry Profits Estimated $35 Billion With Almost 6 Million Annual Deaths.” Maurer Foundation, The Maurer Foundation, 19 Sept. 2014, www.maurerfoundation.org/tobacco-industry-profits-estimated-35-billion-with-almost-6-million-annual-deaths/.
Alabdrabalnabi, Aessa. “The Life Cycle of a Cigarette.” Personal PSU, Portland State University, personal.psu.edu/aha5235/Team project/Life Cycle of Cigarette.pdf.
Center for Tobacco Products. “Products, Ingredients & Components - Chemicals in Every Cigarette.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, 2017, www.fda.gov/tobaccoproducts/labeling/productsingredientscomponents/ucm535267.htm.
“Cigarette.” How Products Are Made, Advameg, Inc., www.madehow.com/Volume-2/Cigarette.html.
Clean Virginia Waterways. “Cigarette Butt Litter.” Virginia Agiculture 2007, Longwood University, 2007, www.longwood.edu/cleanva/cigbutthowmany.htm.
Harris, Jesse. “LIFE CYCLE ANALYSIS OF A CIGARETTE.” Prezi.com, Prezi Inc., 13 Feb. 2014, prezi.com/o73ggg3hnoeg/life-cycle-analysis-of-a-cigarette/.
Makoye, Kizito. “Tobacco Farms Drive Major Deforestation in Tanzania.” News.trust.org, Thomson Reuters Foundation, 26 Dec. 2012, news.trust.org//item/20121226220700-4cney/.
Peat, Thomas. “The Life Cycle of A Cigarette. Extraction Main Component- Tobacco Nicotiana Tabacum, or Cultivated Tobacco Nicotiana Rustica, or Wild Tobacco Mainly Grown. - Ppt Download.” SlidePlayer, Slide Player Inc., 2015, slideplayer.com/slide/4019187/.
“Tobacco Leaf Harvesting, Curing, and Fermenting.” Red Rose, Fronto King, Hot Grabba Leaf, Fanta Leaf, and Other Tobacco Leaf Types for Sale at Leaf Only., Leaf Only, 2018, www.leafonly.com/tobacco-harvesting-curing-fermenting.php.
Tobacco Seeds. “Cultivation, Harvest, and Curing.” Victory Heirloom Seed Company - Preserving the Future, One Seed at a Time!, Victory Seed Company, 2016, www.victoryseeds.com/tobacco/backer_cultivation.html.
“What's In a Cigarette?” American Lung Association, American Lung Association, 30 Nov. 2015, www.lung.org/stop-smoking/smoking-facts/whats-in-a-cigarette.html.