The production of any tobacco product begins on the farm. Tobacco is grown around the world, principally in warm, tropical climates with rich soils. In Europe, the principal tobacco farming regions are in Greece, Italy and Spain.
Tobacco can be harvested in a range of different ways, but most stages of the process are now mechanised. After the leaves are harvested, they must be cured in preparation for consumption. This can also be done in a variety of ways, from sun-curing tobacco leaves left outdoors to hanging them in a barn to air-cure. Flue-curing involves blowing hot air into a closed barn, while fire-cured tobacco is hung in a barn by a smouldering fire. Each method gives the leaves a unique texture and flavour.
After they have been cured, the leaves are graded by hand according to length, thickness, imperfections and colour. They are then packed in bales and transported to auctions or directly sold to traders or company buyers.
Manufacturers then blend the tobacco leaves by hand, which is a crucial step for maintaining consistent quality levels given tobacco’s sensitivity to the climate, time of harvest and curing process. The meticulous hand-blending of different leaves is the key link between the farm and the factory, as it determines what varieties and proportions of tobacco are to be processed to form a blend. One tobacco blend can contain up to 20 types and grades of tobacco.
To produce a finished product, tobacco is first treated with steam, which makes the leaves supple and ready for further conditioning and blending. The blended tobacco is then stored in a conditioned area, where moisture can completely permeate the leaves. Following this, the tobacco leaves are stretched and then pressed together, before being cut into the appropriate length and width for the particular type of end product.
The used leaves are first stripped (e.g. the veins are removed from the leaves), resulting in shorter tobacco strands than those for fine-cut tobacco. Blending is then followed by the pressing process, during which fermentation gives pipe tobacco its characteristic identity.
The entire process of bringing tobacco from farms to consumers involves a wide range of European businesses. There are over 200 manufacturers of tobacco in Europe, and many times more wholesalers and retailers. Many small independent shops and traditional ‘tobacconists’ would not be able to survive without the vital revenue they raise from selling tobacco products, making tobacco an integral part of the European business ecosystem.