While they may seem relatively straightforward (…especially to a longtime smoker), the process of manufacturing traditional cigarettes is in fact very complicated. Understanding this process helps us also understand the additives in cigarettes and why manufacturers add them to their blends.
Probably the biggest thing to know – only about 50% of any given U.S. made cigarette is real tobacco. The remaining part of a cigarette is in fact considered an add-on.
The tobacco itself though is treated with various pesticides while it’s being grown. During production, sugar is added to the base tobacco to help make the flavor of smoking tobacco more pleasing.
A large part of the rest of the cigarette contains what’s known as reconstituted tobacco, which mostly is made up of excess tobacco obtained from a variety of places – everything from sweeping excess tobacco off the factory floor to old cigarettes that have been discarded.
This mixture is poured into two large vats – the first one mixes out impurities then sends a liquid solution to a second vat. This is where chemicals like urea, ammonium hydroxide are mixed in along with another flavoring like chocolate and butterfat to enhance the cigarette’s taste.
If you’ve smoked a cigar before, you’d know that straight smoking tobacco can be quite harsh. Cigarette makers add these chemicals and additives into both enhance the cigarette’s taste, as well as the absorption of nicotine into the smoker’s body.
Once the mixture is complete, the solution is then spread onto paper made from old tobacco stems. It’s then chopped and is now tobacco that’s been reconstituted.
The remaining 20% of the cigarette consists of expanded tobacco, which acts as a filler. This tobacco is mainly reclaimed tobacco and stems that’s been filled with carbon dioxide or CO2.
From here, the mixture is rolled, cut into proper length and attached to filters, which contain cellulose acetate.
Some of these additives have some fascinating, yet disturbing effects.
In its natural form, the tobacco plant contains these large molecules of nicotine, which can be compared to a ball and chain. What these additives do when smoked is essentially break the nicotine molecules, which makes them easier for the user to feel and absorb. This process can scientifically be called free-basing and is essentially the same thing as free-basing cocaine or another drug.