Monday, 3 April 2017

Why is there sugar in your cigarette ?

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Many people believe sugar is all about calories- and hence the idea that one can eat sweets and burn it off in a gym! So in an earlier post (1) we spoke about glycation and how sugar damages proteins in our bodies- this perhaps is sugars greatest danger.

Today's post is a little different and we hope you enjoy reading it- Today we share with you, how sugar has made smoking additive, what few realise is that without sugar, perhaps you would have never picked up smoking.

Tobacco has been smoked for thousands of years- however, addiction to smoking or illness due to smoking was a rare occurrence until the 1900's. Then something happened that changed it all- In 1914, R. J. Reynolds introduced Camels, the first cigarettes to be made of blended tobacco- ever since then, people have been hooked on to smoking like never before. So what did Camel do to get people hooked on to smoking?

To know that first let's tell you about two tobacco varieties that constitute 90% of the cigarettes smoked. The first is the air-cured “Burley” tobacco, and the other is the 'flue-cured' Virginia tobacco.

When tobacco is flue-cured, the harvested tobacco leaves are suspended over hot iron flues. The heat first fixes the colour of the tobacco leaves and then dries them. The heat also breaks down the enzymes in the leaves that would otherwise break down the sugars they contain. So tobacco that begins with a relatively high carbohydrate content (up to 50 percent of dry weight) but is low in sugar (3 percent) ends up as much as 22 percent sugar, sucrose specifically. This higher sugar content of the flue-cured tobacco leaves is the key to inhalation. The high sugar content results in tobacco smoke that is acidic rather than alkaline. Alkaline smoke irritates the mucous membranes and stimulates the coughing response. Acidic smoke can be inhaled without doing either. Most people are unable to inhale the alkaline smoke from pipe and cigar tobaccos, but they can inhale the acidic smoke from the sugar-rich, flue-cured tobacco in cigarettes.

The air-cured burley tobacco has virtually no sugar in it and this makes it relatively nicotine-rich, and the nicotine is easier to absorb than it is in flue-cured tobacco, but the smoke itself is alkaline and thus difficult to inhale.

So until Camel came on the market, cigarettes were made almost exclusively from flue-cured tobacco. Though they could be inhaled, they had a relatively low nicotine content, and the nicotine was not easily absorbed by the lungs. The more sugar naturally occurring in the tobacco, the lower the nicotine content, and the less absorbable the nicotine is. So the satisfaction to be derived from the experience of smoking cigarettes prior to Camel was also low, and so was a novice smoker’s urge to keep smoking.

In the early 1910's farmers in Missouri and Kentucky realised that Burley leaves were highly porous and could easily absorb sugar. So they began sweetening their tobacco by marinating them. in a concentrated sugar solution.

This is where Camel stepped in. In 1914, Camel blended this high nicotine and candied Burley tobacco in its smokable low nicotine flue-cured tobacco. The higher nicotine content made Camel's much more desirable and soon a nation was hooked on to them.

By 1929, U.S. tobacco growers were sweetening Burley tobacco with fifty million pounds of sugar a year and using it in over 120 billion cigarettes. The sugar balanced out the tobacco’s naturally alkaline smoke, maximising its inhalability and delivering higher nicotine into the lungs. The sugars in the tobacco also “caramelise” as they burn and the caramelization of the smoke provides a sweet flavour and an agreeable smell that made cigarette attractive to women smokers and to adolescents as well.

Even today most cigarettes we smoke are sweetened, hooking on newer customers using the addictive properties of Nicotine and Sugar- delivering ever increasing toxic smoke into our lungs and in the hundred years since its invention has killed more people than gunpowder and nuclear weapons combined

To end it up- this sweetening of tobacco with sugar has another deleterious effect. The acidity of the smoke increases as the cigarette burns closer to the butt, which in turn decreases the absorbability of the nicotine. This means that as the cigarette burns down, the nicotine satisfaction decreases and the smoker tends to draw longer and harder to compensate. As a result, the urge to inhale most deeply is greatest when the tar-and-carcinogen content of the smoke is also greatest.

So if you are a smoker- do bear in mind- without sugar, you would not have been hooked onto that stick in the first place- just like we would have so much lesser incidents of lifestyle induced diabetes.


Based on the book : 'The case against sugar' by Gary Taubes

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