Not all cigarettes are the same. Smokers around the world prefer many different tastes and British American Tobacco aims for excellence at every step of manufacturing.
Cigarette design is more complicated than it may seem. We work to understand the preferences of adult consumers and to design cigarettes accordingly.
It’s the preferences of adult consumers that guide tobacco blends - the mix of tobaccos that we use - and we work to ensure the right tobacco grades are always available to keep the tastes of our products consistent.
The filter, paper and level of filter ventilation are all chosen to affect the sensory strength and smoke yield (the amount of smoke produced) from the cigarette when tested by a standardised cigarette machine. At each stage, there is constant quality control and testing.
Main parts of a cigarette
Cigarettes have four basic components:
- The tobacco rod;
- The cigarette paper around the tobacco rod;
- The filtration zone;
- The filter and tipping paper around the filtration zone.
The tobacco in the rod includes tobacco lamina (the flat part of the tobacco leaf), tobacco stem (midribs of the leaf), and expanded lamina.
- The cigarette paper includes paper and adhesive.
- The filter is made mainly from cellulose acetate fibres, known as tow. Cellulose acetate is derived from wood pulp.
- The fibres are bonded together with a hardening agent, triacetin plasticizer, which helps the filter to keep its shape. The filter is wrapped in paper and sealed with a line of adhesive.
- Sometimes charcoal is added to filters.
- The tipping paper includes paper and adhesive.
Nicotine is not added to cigarettes. It occurs naturally in all varieties of tobacco plants.
Design adjustments achieve different strengths and tastes and can reduce smoke yields of various smoke components, as measured by a standardised machine method. See How are cigarette deliveries measured?
What happens when a cigarette burns?
To understand cigarette design, it helps to know how a cigarette burns. It is the combustion process – the burning of the cigarette – that produces tar. If hay were burned instead of tobacco, it would also produce a type of tar. When an item burns, it produces tiny particles mixed with gases – this is smoke.
A cigarette filter traps some of these particles. When a smoker puffs on a cigarette, whole smoke, including both fine particles and gases, is sucked through the tobacco rod and the filter. Gases pass through the filter, and some particles are trapped in it. It is this particulate matter, minus nicotine and water, that is called tar.
Smoke has over 4,000 constituents, many of them also found in the air we breathe and our food. These constituents include emissions such as tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide. Water vapour is also produced by the combustion, because the burning of any organic material breaks down the chemical components and produces water.
Our cigarettes often contain a selection of different types of tobacco leaf from different countries, blended for aroma, taste and character to meet smokers' taste preferences. Three main types of tobacco are used in cigarettes: Virginia or Flue-cured, Burley and Oriental.
- Virginia, or Flue-cured tobacco, is named after the US state where it was first cultivated. It is also called ‘bright tobacco’ because of the yellow to orange colour it achieves during curing. It grows particularly well in subtropical regions with light rainfall, such as Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas in the USA, Southern Brazil and Zimbabwe. In Australia, blends are predominantly Virginia, for example, Dunhill and Winfield. Virginia blends contain only flue-cured Virginia tobaccos.
- Burley tobacco requires heavier soils and more fertiliser than Virginia. Some of the best Burley is grown in US states such as Maryland and Kentucky, in Central America, Malawi, Uganda and Indonesia. The harvested leaves are air-cured by being dried under cover in ambient conditions. After being air-cured, it turns brown with virtually no sugar, giving it an almost cigar-like taste. Along with Virginia and Oriental tobacco, it makes up an American Blend for cigarettes, as used in brands like Lucky Strike.
- Oriental is the smallest and hardiest of all tobacco types, grown in the hot summer of the Balkans, Turkey and the Middle East. These conditions and a high planting density create an aromatic flavour, enhanced by sun-curing, as in a traditional Turkish cigarette. An Oriental blend can contain up to 100% sun-cured tobaccos.
Several factors can influence the smoking characteristics, including the variety of plant, how it is harvested and influences such as soil and climate. All these can affect the tobacco’s taste and aroma.
Grades of leaf in blends
One tobacco plant can produce several grades of leaf. For example, the leaves at the top of the plant are more exposed to the sun than the ones at the bottom. Grades are generally determined by a leaf’s position on the plant, its thickness, aroma, graininess and colour (lemon, orange and mahogany are the most typical) and the quality and maturity of the plant.
The quality of the various grades is determined by the leaf’s ability to withstand manufacturing, as well as its sensory properties, which can result in taste differences, from a harsh experience to a smoother, richer taste.
Leaf is bought from growers and sent for threshing, which separates the stem and lamina parts of the leaves. It is sorted by grade and each grade is stored to mature for three months to two years to allow for taste variations in the final product.
A typical Virginia style cigarette
Cigarette brands offer many different tastes and looks. Like many consumer goods, an important difference among brands is based on the different recipes – the way the various grades of tobacco are mixed to make different tastes. Various blend recipes are used to meet the vast range of adult smokers’ preferences.
All the grades of lamina are carefully blended and cut to ensure consistent smoking characteristics. Cut stem is then added to the lamina to produce the final blend.
A Virginia style of cigarette contains different tobacco grades in the blend recipe.