Tobacco: Behind the Smoke

What is Tobacco?

Tobacco seed to plant

Tobacco is a plant from the Solanaceae family, better known as Nicotiana (genus).

Solanaceae

Tobacco plant

The Solanaceae family comprises some 2,000 species, including herbaceous plants, bushes, trees and vines. Several fruits and vegetables are from this family.

Here are a few members of the vast family of the Solanaceae:

  • Tobacco
  • Petunias
  • Hot and sweet peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Eggplants
  • Tomatoes

In order to grow, plants draw nutrients from the soil, air and water.

They also need sunlight as a source of energy.

Nutrients

Did you know?

There are several varieties of tobacco. Nicotiana tabacum, or common tobacco, is the primary source of tobacco in cigarette manufacturing.

Nutrients are contained in foods or found in the ambient natural environment. These nutrients serve as food for plants, promoting their growth and development.

For example, the following nutrients are found in soil and used by the tobacco plant:

  • Humus (organic matter)
  • Minerals
  • Water

Tobacco Plant

Did you know?

All plants are composed of chemicals:

  • Spinach » iron, chlorophyll, etc.
  • Lettuce » water, vitamin C, etc.
  • Wheat » vitamin B, starch, etc.
  • Coffee, tea » caffeine, sugars, etc.

Tobacco plants are composed of many chemicals, including:

  • Nicotine
  • Chlorophyll
  • Water
  • Sugars
  • Minerals
  • and many more...

But do you know what a chemical is?
 

What is a chemical?

A chemical is a combination of many atoms.

Atoms can be compared to building blocks.

Atoms

Atoms and building blocks

In chemistry, the atom is the basic building block of chemicals. Atoms are too small to be seen, but can be represented schematically as spheres of different colours and sizes.

Examples :

  • Carbon (C) =
  • Nitrogen (N) =
  • Hydrogen (H) =
  • Oxygen (O) =

A chemical can be compared to a combination of building blocks.

Any vegetable, animal or mineral matter is composed of chemicals.

Chemical

Chemicals and building blocks

A chemical is a combination of atoms. For example, nicotine, a chemical naturally present in the tobacco plant and responsible for tobacco addiction, is composed of carbon (10), hydrogen (14) and nitrogen (2) atoms. Its chemical formula is C10H14N2.

The schematic representation of this chemical is:

Nicotine chemical schematic representation

True or False?

All chemicals are created by humans (artificial).

False.
Some are created by humans, while others are created by nature. The chemicals, whether natural or artificial, are not all harmful to health. Vitamin C and calcium are examples of chemicals that have a beneficial effect on health.

From tobacco plant to cigarette -- what happens?

Now we understand that all plants are composed of chemicals.

Let's get back to the tobacco plant!

The tobacco plant is harvested when it is ripe: when the leaves begin to turn yellow.

Tobacco leaves are dried.

Dried

This stage provides a means of rapidly destroying chlorophyll (the leaf goes from green to brown), converting starch into sugars, and reducing the moisture that is naturally present in tobacco leaves.

The drying of the leaves is also called curing. Various curing methods exist.

During the curing, leaves turn from green to brown.

Curing methods

Flue-curing:

Cured Tobacco Leaves

This drying method is carried out in an enclosed building that contains a heat source. The interior temperature is gradually increased until the tobacco leaves are completely dry. This process takes approximately one week.

 

 

 

Air-curing:

This drying method is carried out in an open-frame building in which tobacco leaves suspended from cross beams are sheltered from the wind and sun. This process takes approximately four to eight weeks.

Sun-curing:

The tobacco leaves are dried in nets under the action of the sun. This process takes approximately one month (according to weather conditions).

The cured leaves are sold to a processor and are then shredded.

This is the tobacco found in cigarettes!

Shredded Tobacco

The shredded tobacco, paper and filter are then assembled... to produce a cigarette!

Cigarette

There! Now you know that all plants, including tobacco, are composed of chemicals.

And you understand all the stages that tobacco goes through: from the living plant, to drying, to cigarette manufacturing.

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