The Mystery of Tobacco: How it all started

How tobacco turns from a small seed to a tobacco plug in the tobacco stick? What does the plant, discovered by Cristopher Columbus looks like? How can you tell high-quality tobacco? Join us on a journey exploring the magic of this plant, its qualities, and its story.

Farmer in a tobacco field

Anatomy of tobacco: from seed to fragrant harvest  

From petit seed to abundant leaves 

Tobacco in its wild form can still be found in North and South America, perhaps even in Australia. Those are the original native locations of the plant, from which it spread thanks to great popularity to plantations in warmer climates all around the world.

Cultivation and growing of the plant is a short but a very delicate process. The tobacco seeds are very small and only the best make it to the plantation. Selected few are covered with nutrients to form small balls, allowing for better manipulations and faster growth. 

Did you know that…  
there are between 10,000 and 13,000 tobacco seeds in a gram? 

Tobacco begins its lifecycle in glasshouses, growing first to an approximately 15-20cm tall plant: just like tomatoes do. This takes approx. two months, after it is replanted to a plantation. Thanks to generous space, care, and a high dose of sunshine, it takes only another two to three months for the small plant to turn into a fully grown specimen, over 1,5 meter tall. Leaves can be more than half a meter long and up to 30cm wide. The leaves of oriental variant are different, smaller and narrower. 

Trial by heat

With dedicated breeding, three main variants appeared which now represents the bulk of tobacco farming: Virginia, Burley and Oriental.  Virginia and Oriental tobacco are harvested slowly, leaf by leaf – a very labor intensive process, mainly with the latter variety. Burley on the other hand is harvested as a whole plant, including the stalk.  The main differentiator of the three varieties is the curing they undergo right after being harvested. 

Freshly harvested tobacco leaves must be dried to get rid of the excess water first. The process known as curing differs between the three main variants and it has an impact on the content of some critical ingredients of the leaf and its color.  

Virginia gets the harshest treatment: it is flue-cured, which means that the leaves are hung in curing barns, where heated air is generated to dry the leaves. Source of the heat comes often from direct flames. After the curing is over, almost 90% of the volume of the leaf evaporates and the resulting tobacco is very rich in nicotine.

Burley is cured for several weeks in well ventilated barns. This time intensive process give the farmers – and later to the adult smokers and users – leaves with a slightly sweet taste and very high levels of nicotine. 

Oriental tobacco loses its excessive water while in direct sunlight. This method, used mainly in the Balkans and Turkey, leads to very brown leaves with low sugar and nicotine content. Main benefit of the direct exposure to the sunlight is the unique flavor and spiciness.  

Moisture is added later on during the processing of the dried tobacco leaves. This time it is a controlled process with a single objective: to deliver the best possible taste experience to the user of the final tobacco product.

Did you know that…
Virginia and Burley tobacco were bred on American plantations only in the 19th century? 

Sunset over a tobacco field
A man with a smile on his face

Support to responsible farmers 

Properly dried tobacco is sorted based on its size, position of the stalk and quality. Resulting bales travel to specialized markets and exchanges, where they are evaluated by the leaf buyers. These specialists, equipped with years of experience, can quickly evaluate the quality, and seek the best leaves for the company which they represent. They look at the leaves, touch and smell them. Their task is not so simple.  Quality of tobacco is influenced by several factors: its variety, area where it was grown, what kind of soil it grew on and finally, the most important factor are the farmers who took care of the tobacco.

Did you know that…  
the first tobacco plantation in Europe was planted on a suburb of Toledo, Spain, in a place known as “Los Cigarrales”?

Philip Morris International (PMI) purchases its tobacco only from selected farmers. As part of the GAP program it requires a responsible approach towards the plant itself, the environment and to the people who are involved in the farming. The agreement between PMI and farmers prohibits child labor and bad growing practices, while offering good sale price and sustainability of tobacco farming. It is similar to the Fair-Trade arrangement, known for example from the world of coffee.  

GAP is not an initiative just for the sake of it – there is too much at stake. All around the world, around 15 million people are involved in tobacco growing, working on farms, large and small. Annual production is around 32,4 million tons of green tobacco, which is then cured to provide producers with over 6 million tons of dried leaves available for further processing and production. Not all leaves are suitable for all types of tobacco products. The quality of tobacco farming goes hand in hand with the forms of its use.  

Our predecessor at first chewed the wild tobacco – both the leaves and seeds. Later, smoking appeared, either from a pipe or in a form similar to today’s cigars. Native Americans sometimes used tobacco infusions. Nowadays, mixture of tobacco and water is used as a pesticide. This liquid is very different from the one used in electronic cigarettes. Water and tobacco work well together in the form of oriental water pipes. Smoking them is still more of a social event rather than an individual activity.  

In recent years, new popular forms of tobacco consumption appeared such as snus – nicotine filled sachets – or heated tobacco in the HEETS sticks. Snuff tobacco might appear to be very old fashioned, just as the pipe smoking. To each his or her own we say…

Tobacco “sommeliers” can tell the quality

Tobacco leaf can be damaged by change of the weather, major errors can occur during curing. All it takes is to dry it a bit longer than needed and the leaf will end as a second-class ingredients in some illegal or cheap cigarette.  

This will not happen with HEETS tobacco sticks. At Philip Morris we do all we can to put into our products only the best tobacco from verified farms.

A man checking the quality of tobacco leaves

Did you know, that…
in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic Philip Morris not only have a state-of-the-art factory,
but also a museum of tobacco? 

To ensure that experience with the HEETS sticks is always great, tobacco leaves must be examined by another group of experts. The so called blenders have knowledge similar to the best wine sommeliers or experts on expensive alcohol drinks. The main working tool of every blender is his or her sense of smell. The scent of tobacco is the best giveaway about its depth, character and true experts can tell the taste of the leaf just by its aroma. This skill cannot be taught at any university – top class blenders build a database of tobaccos in their minds, remembering aromas and colors so they can guarantee the best possible experience for the end user.  

Apart from ensuring the desired quality, tobacco blenders can come up with a new product, combine and blend the right variants from the right plantations for a new flavor, expected and desired by adult customers. Cigarettes contain tobacco blends. The so called American blend combines all three major variants with Burley as the base, enriched by Virginia and few leaves of Oriental to add its unique flavor.  The ability to make the best blend is appreciated by adult smokers of traditional cigarettes, but nowadays it is also important to select the right ingredients of unique tobacco sticks for heat, not just for burn products. The exact composition of tobacco sticks is one of several well-guarded secrets of this modern technology. Manufacturing process is hard to replicate and involves several patents.. 

Did you know that…
the development of IQOS as we know it now, started in 2008? 

When it comes to heated tobacco, the right leaves must have not just the desired aroma and nicotine content, but also the ability to withstand unique manufacturing process. Dried leaves are ground to provide the perfect mixture and then reconstituted back into tobacco sheets. These are later formed to desired shape and combined with other scientific ingredients to create the tobacco plug. Only carefully selected and perfectly processed leaves can deliver the perfect real tobacco experience when heated. 

You can recognize a good quality tobacco even without years of expertise. Very rarely will you come across raw tobacco, but its smell will be a giveaway: does it resemble a proven product, for instance, one from Philip Morris? Each tobacco has different ideal color. Burley will resemble slightly tanned skin. Under no circumstances will it have green stains or dots. If the leaf is processed, it should have a clean and fine cut. The best you can do is to trust the experts with decades of experience and buy only a proven, original product. 

Did you know that…
the first markets for launch of tobacco sticks and IQOS devices were Nagoya, Japan and Milan, Italy? 

Apart from clear taste of real tobacco, HEETS tobacco sticks can offer you something extra: different flavors. They differ from classic cigarettes, which are banned from having any fruit or menthol variants. This is true in EU countries, but also in some other countries of the world. 

Ľudia v tabakovom poli

Nahrievaný alebo zahrievaný tabak? 

Ako je to s rôznym pomenovaním bezdymových tabakových produktov? Pravda je taká, že oba používané názvy majú rovnaký význam. Keď sme prišli na trh s touto jedinečnou inováciou, bol nahrievaný tabak absolútnou novinkou. Na jeho používanie prešlo veľké množstvo dospelých fajčiarov, medzi ktorými sa rozšírilo aj alternatívne pomenovanie zahrievaný tabak

Discover IQOS 3 DUO 

Drying tobacco leaves

History of tobacco: From rituals to high-tech 

Tobacco is a controversial companion of humans for more than 12 thousand years. First traces of its use come from North America and the plant was discovered for the Europeans by Christopher Columbus during his very first expedition across the Atlantic Ocean. One of the sailors from his crew noticed the habit of natives to lit up dried leaves and inhale them. He brought this habit back to the Old World with him but regretted it very quickly. Infamous Spanish inquisition sent him to jail, since only the devil can breathe out smoke from his mouth and nose.

Did you know that…
people most likely used to chew tobacco seeds and leaves while mammoths were still wandering the Earth? 

Novelty from America quickly overcame initial obstacles, and its popularity grew very quickly. Tobacco growing and trading became an important component of economies of colonial powers by the end of 17th century.  

Sunset over a tobacco field

Oriental connection 

Tobacco was banned for several years in the Turkish – Osman – empire but thanks to the idea of taxing, it got a second chance. This helped a new variant – Oriental tobacco – to gain popularity. From Turkey, it found its way to what is now modern Iran and turned into a unique form of consumption – hookah, also known as water-pipe. Smoke created by burning the tobacco is cooled and partially filtered in the water. Hookahs became very popular in India, China and later also in Europe. 

In the area of tobacco origin, North America, the most popular way of tobacco consumption was to chew it. This changed with the introduction of cigarettes wrapped in paper. According to one of the legends of its origin, the paper wrapped cigarette was a result of an insufficient tobacco allocation to soldiers of the Egyptian army. Having not enough tobacco leaves to wrap the cigarettes, they opted for paper instead and paved the way for the most dominant form of tobacco consumption of our time: the mass-produced cigarette. 

Did you know that…
First evidence of human use of tobacco is thirteen thousand years old?

Enters the American efficiency

Practicality of wrapping a cut tobacco to a paper was clear when compared to filling a pipe and quickly gained a massive following. Now, the only problem was the need to do the wrapping by hand. A skilled wrapper could make about 200 cigarettes in one hour. This was not enough. 

In 1880, an American by the name of James Albert Bonsack introduced to the world a machine carrying his name, which was able to manufacture 120 thousand cigarettes in ten hours. This was an incredible speed – one bundle per minute. Thanks to constant improvements, modern machines are even faster, much faster. 

Did you know that…
Mr. Philip Morris opened his tobacco and cigarettes shop in the year 1847 and by that started a tradition of the oldest tobacco company still in business?  

A man checking the quality of tobacco leaves

When Nature meets the latest science 

The journey of cigarettes in the 20th century was long and turbulent. It led from massive popularity through concerns about smoking to strict regulation. Cigarette and tobacco manufacturers did not just stand aside; instead they made a bet on science. The consumers made a clear request about what they want to get rid of: the smell, ash, dirt and the medical implications.  

There were low hanging fruits. Snuff and chewing tobacco came back from the past, tobacco and later pure nicotine sachets appeared to leverage the ability of our gums to absorb their content. But scientists and engineers were looking for much more advanced technological solutions to match the requests of adult smokers. 

Did you know that…
nicotine got its name from a diplomat and merchant Jean Nicot, who was a big promoter of tobacco at the court of the king Francis II of France? 

First, the electronic cigarettes got the attention of masses of adult smokers who were exploring the novelty of vaping. While they are technologically simpler, their operation is based on heating of liquids and not tobacco leaves. We will not discuss them in any detail for the purpose of our article. On the contrary – the original, natural ingredients are instrumental in another critical innovation in the use of tobacco – it is heating with sophisticated devices such as the IQOS.  

Leader of the “Heat not burn” – as it is often called – category, Philip Morris invested years of research and billions of dollars. The result is a combination of state-of-the-art technology with a unique tobacco blend. By not burning at high temperatures, but rather just by heating the dry tobacco to release aerosol and nicotine, they offer to adult smokers an alternative without smoke, tar and with significantly lower content levels of harmful chemicals. You can find Fiit for the lil SOLID device and HEETS for the IQOS device in our portfolio. 

Discover alternatives to smoking

Special offer for IQOS

Discover special offer for IQOS

Do you want to buy IQOS or try it for free? Choose the way that suits you best.

Read more

lil SOLID device

Discover special offer for lil SOLID

Discover special offer for lil™ SOLID device, which stands out thanks to its practicality and minimalist design.

Read more

HEETS flavour

Variety of HEETS flavors 

Do you know the whole range of HEETS? It will surely let you discover at least a few flavors that will satisfy your preferences.

Read more