From seed to smoke
There are around 12,000 tobacco seeds in a gram - it looks rather like instant coffee powder. The seeds are so small that they must be nurtured in specially protected seedbeds for 60 days before transplanting to the field. After a couple of weeks, soil is banked up around the seedlings for protection and to let them develop a good root system. Two months later, the flowers and some of the upper leaves are ‘topped’ to concentrate growth in the remaining leaves (like ‘pinching out’ tomatoes). As the plants grow, it is necessary that the farmer provide appropriate nutrition and watch out for pests.
Tobacco and the future
Tobacco has been smoked for at least three thousand years and for much of that time it has divided opinion, sparked controversy and provoked strong views.
Frederick William Fairholt described the progress of the tobacco trade in 1859 as “curious” in his book ‘Tobacco, its History and Associations’, adding: “That a plant originally smoked by a few savages, should succeed, in spite of the most stringent opposition in church and state, to be the cherished luxury of the whole civilised world… causing so vast a trade and so large an outlay of money; is a statistical fact, without an equal parallel.”
150 years later the tobacco industry supports millions of jobs and hundreds of thousands of farmers choose to grow this resilient and reliable crop. Governments globally earn more revenue from tobacco products than the shareholders of the companies that make them. For example, in 2011, Brithis American Tobacco subsidiary companies enabled governments worldwide to gather more than £30 billion in taxes, including excise duty on our products, almost nine times the Group’s profit after tax.
Views on tobacco have, if anything, become more polarised than ever in the 21st century and today the issue dominating the agenda is the risk to health. Yet tobacco products are legal and calls for a ban are very rare. Even with universal awareness of the health risks, around one billion adults worldwide make the choice to smoke.