2. What goes into tobacco products?
2.1 What are the main tobacco products?
The vast majority of smokers use cigarettes. Most are manufactured. Other ways of smoking, including cigars, pipes and waterpipes are less common. Like roll-your-own cigarettes, they also use blends of tobacco. In waterpipes, tobacco is heated over charcoal and the smoke filtered through water before being inhaled. The smoke from these tobacco products has different characteristics. Waterpipe smoke, for instance, is cooler and tends to be inhaled into the lungs, while cigar smoke typically remains in the mouth.
Together, tobacco products used for smoking lead to about 500,000 deaths per year in the EU. Smokeless tobacco products, such as snuff or chewing tobacco, can also be harmful to health. Very recently, electronic cigarettes have been marketed. These are battery-powered devices that produce an inhalable vapour of nicotine and other chemicals. They have been marketed to help people stop smoking and as a way of taking in nicotine in smoke-free zones. Their risks are as yet little studied.
2.2 How are they made?
Cigarettes are carefully designed “nicotine delivery devices”. Fine-cut tobacco leaves are processed, wrapped, and often filter tipped. The final product delivers a mix of smoke-borne chemicals which depends on the tobacco type and blend, and how it is cured, on the precise engineering of the tube, and on the properties of additives incorporated during manufacture. They are included to affect how fast the tobacco burns, how much nicotine is released, and the flavour and harshness of the smoke. The whole process is closely monitored to deliver a standardised product which has the characteristics smokers recognise in “their” brand.
Burley tobacco, a light air-cured leaf widely used in cigarette blends, can absorb up to 25 per cent of its weight in additives. Humectants and flavourings can be added to the blend at various stages but flavourings are most often added to already blended tobacco near the end of processing. They are often mixed with alcohol before application. Other additives, such as menthol, may also be added via the filter or the cigarette paper.
As well as additives, the technology of tobacco production is evolving. The industry has developed genetically modified (GM) tobacco plants, to alter nicotine levels. Some smoking cessation aids use GM tobacco which contains little or no nicotine.
2.3 What is added?
Tobacco additives were little used before 1970. Since then, their use has increased and US-style cigarettes now contain about 10 per cent of additives by weight. As reported by the tobacco industry, approximately 600 substances are used as cigarette additives. The main additions to tobacco are sugars, which are also present naturally in tobacco leaves, and moisture retaining compounds (humectants), such as glycerol and propylene glycol. There are ingredients which are part of the cigarette paper, the filter, if used, and the glue which holds a cigarette or cigar together.
Other items on the list include preservatives and numerous flavourings. The latter include cocoa, liquorice, menthol and lactic acid. Most others are only used in small amounts. They may be chemical flavouring agents, plant extracts and oils. Cigars, pipe tobacco and smokeless tobacco usually contain fewer additives. Waterpipe tobacco tends to be high in water and sugars.
Tobacco industries in the EU have to report the full list of additives in tobacco products, including the exact amount, to the competent authorities.