I once joined a lady in the cultivation and curing (drying) of Tobacco plant somewhere in Benue state Nigeria few years ago. We sometimes join the local farmers to their farms and purchase the plant which we will then cure it for weeks and afterwards sell them and make profit. It was indeed a lucrative business but at the same time a difficult process since we were curing manually.
In this article, we will look at how tobacco is made, the content and health of smokers.
Tobacco comes from the plant called "nicotiana tabacum", and is produced in about 80 different countries, giving a world total of over 8000 million Ib a year.
Fired-cured leaves are hung over wood fires, and come into direct contact with the smoke.
Flue-cured leaves are also cured by the heat of a fire, but do not come into contact with the smoke. The method of curing affects the finished product. For example, flue-cured tobacco has a lower nicotine content than other kinds, and instead contains 15 to 20% more sugar. It also affects the leaf color. Air-cured leaves are reddish brown, sun-cured rather darker, fire-cured simply dark brown, and flue-cured light brown to yellow.
Up to 90% of tobacco is flue-cured. After curing the tobacco is left to mature, and then graded ready for manufacture. Grading is done by the size, color, and texture of the leaf. Different grades are used for different products.
Tobacco is a unique plant that can be used in different ways. It cut across the scope of just cigarettes alone. It can used as Cigars, Pipe tobacco, Snuff, and Chewing tobacco.
Cigarettes is the main reason for the bulk of tobacco consumption. The tobacco they use is usually flue-cured. This gives a neutral cigarette smoke which is easily inhaled, i.e taken down into the lungs.
Cigars are generally made of air-cured tobacco. The smoke is more pungent(having a strong odour) and seldom inhaled, i.e it only enters the mouth and perhaps the throat - but much of the nicotine content is absorbed through the linings of the mouth.
Pipe tobacco is generally air, sun, or fire-cured. It is also seldom inhaled, and there is only a small amount of nicotine absorption through the mouth.
Snuff is a powdered tobacco that is sniffed into the nostrils. Nicotine is absorbed through the linings of the nose, and some snuff probably passes down into the lungs.
Chewing Tobacco is a mixture of tobacco and molasses. Nicotine is absorbed through the mouth. Researchers have it that after the first World war, the spread of cigarette smoking and other forms of consumption declined, especially, the taking of snuff and chewing tobacco. But recently, as the dangers of cigarette smoking have been recognized, there has been some slight rise in the relative proportion of cigar and pipe smokers.
Content of Tobacco Smoke
Tobacco smoke contains at least 300 different chemical compounds. These enter the lungs in the form of gases or solid particles. The solid particles condense to form a thick brown tar. (The inhaled smoke of 10,000 cigarettes, i.e under two years of smoking, at 15 cigarettes a day, yields about 3/8 Ib of this tar). It lines the passages down which the smoke travels, and collects in the lungs.
The content of tobacco smoke fall into five main categories.
The first is the Carcinogenic (tending to cause cancer) substances which induce the growth of cancer. There are at least 15 carcinogens in tobacco smoke, including certain hydrocarbons, benzpyrene, and perhaps a radioactive isotope of polonium.
The second is Co-Carcinogens, or cancer promoters, do not cause cancer themselves, but accelerate its production by the carcinogens. They include phenols and fatty acids.
The third is the Irritant substances. This disturb the bronchial passages, increasing mucus secretion but damaging the processes for expelling this mucus from the lungs.
The fourth is Gases. It occur at dangerous levels in tobacco smoke. They include carbon monoxide at 400 times the level considered safe in industry, and hydrogen cyanide at 160 times the safe level.
The fifth is Nicotine, which is a powerful poison. A 70mg injection is enough to kill, of which one cigarette contains 0.5 to 2.0mg , depending on how the tobacco was cured (dried). How much absorption of this depends on the method of smoking. There is evidence that nicotine is the addictive constituent of tobacco, i.e nicotine gives tobacco its "kick" while the tar gives it its taste.
But however, 70% of all cigarettes sold are now filter tipped. The filter is meant to remove the harmful substances in the smoke, but it is not necessarily successful. In fact, with any cigarette, the tobacco itself acts as a filter. But, as a result, smoking the last third of a cigarette releases as much dangerous material as the first 2/3.
Reasons People Smoke
ASC Leiden - Coutinho Collection - C 27 - Life in Sara, Guinea-Bissau - Women cooking - 1974 (cropped). (License: CC BY-SA 4.0, Author: Roel Coutinho) Source: Wikimedia Commons
Despite the growing evidence of the dangers of smoking, old smokers go on smoking and new ones start. The reasons are many and often interdependent. Some reasons are social conformity, curiosity, personality, pleasure, boredom, escape, advertising and government involvement.
Smoking is a socially accepted form of drug taking and for children it is an activity associated with a "grown up" way of life. Most smokers start in adolescence, copying schoolmates, friends or workmates. Children from families in which both parents smoke are also more liable to do so themselves .
First experiments in smoking follow from a child's curiosity to find out what so many adults and friends experience when they smoke.
Often times most adolescents who start to smoke are those who feel unsuccessful or rebellious: smoking can give them a status symbol, a symbol of maturity. For others, of all ages, it may be used to combat or conceal nervousness, and give them confidence in company.
Once tolerance has developed, and smoking no longer gives unpleasant physical sensations such as dizziness. The smoker usually finds his habit comforting and pleasurable - if only because it takes away the desire experienced when he stops.
Smoking allows a certain amount of involvement, so it can give some release from boredom. Moreover, unlike many activities, it is socially acceptable for smoking to accompany or even interrupt work.
The sedative effects of smoking can also provide some relief from anxiety and tension, while the physical activity of smoking can be an outlet for nervous energy, simply by giving the smoker something to do.
The social acceptability of smoking means that the tobacco industry is allowed to advertise its products. Advertisements make smoking seem desirable in many ways. The constant sight of cigarettes may also result in a smoker being unable to give up.
The high taxes imposed on tobacco products provide governments everywhere with considerable revenue. This, and the large proportion of the population often supported by the industry, means that cigarettes will continue to be produced. As long as cigarettes are available, smoking will take place.
Effects of smoking
Adverse effects of tobacco smoking (License: Public Domain, Author: Mikael Häggström) Source: Wikimedia commons
The dependence on smoking gives many smokers a comforting habit that helps them relax and avoid stress. For some others , it is a meaningless activity that cannot be stopped. Both cases result from the dependence that cigarettes create. Withdrawal symptoms on stopping smoking may include, depression,anxiety, intense craving, instability, restlessness, sleep disturbance, difficulty in concentrating, sweating, drop in blood pressure and heart rate and so on.
Smokers have four times accidents than non-smokers. This may be due to slowing of the reflex actions, lasting about 20 minutes, that follow after smoking a cigarette. Smokers also run a higher risk of death or injury by fire which could be as a result of smoking in bed.
Smoking can be expensive on a personal level, but the greatest cost is to society. Illness resulting from smoking usually cause about 20% of the annual loss of working days in different countries.
Smoking and Health
Smoking is the largest single avoidable cause of ill-health and death. It can damage the cardio-vascular, respiratory, and digestive systems. And also encourage the growth of cancer in many parts of the body.
Smokers run a much higher risk than non-smokers of illness and premature death. In the sense that, smokers are twice as likely ro die before middle age as nonsmokers . They run the same the same risk of death as someone 10 years older. Two out of five smokers die before 65. This happens to only one out of five none smokers.
How much damage smoking does depends on several things: the type of tobacco; the form it is smoked in; the temperature at which it is burned; the effectiveness of any filtration; whether inhalation occurs ; the length of time the individual have been smoking; the amount he smokes; and the general state of his health.
Smoking of sorts is harmful, but usually cigaratte smoking is the most deadly. The nicotine content of cigarette tobacco is often smaller, but the higher burning temperature and the greater tendency to inhale favors lung damage and especially lung cancer, which is often not diagnosed till too late.
Pipe and cigar smokers are more likely to develop the more noticeable and so more curable cancers of the mouth, pharynx and larynx. The convenience of cigarettes may also encourage smoking than pipes or cigars.
Companies as well as tobacconists and tobaccophobes always warn that "smokers are liable to die young". Just like i said in this article, that "people smoke because of different reasons". And they usually find it difficult to quit even when they want to.
The tobacco business is no doubt a highly lucrative one, but the health aspect of the users (smokers) is something that has to be looked into. If you want to stay healthy and live longer then you must quit smoking tobacco.
In my next article i will be discussing on possible ways of quitting tobacco for those who wants to quit.
References for Further Research
 Tobacco- Wikipedia
Agricultural product processed from the leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana
 Tobacco - World Health Organization
 The Tobacco Atlas
 Tobacco Smoking
 Health effects of tobacco
 Harms of Cigarette Smoking and Health Benefits of Quitting
 What is tobacco smoke? Sociocultural dimensions of the association with cardiovascular risk