What's In Your Commercial Cigarette?

In 1998 RJ Reynolds filed an appeal against a ruling by the North Carolina Department of Environment & Natural Resources that it could not classify the waste tobacco is uses to manufacture its cigarette products as ‘solid waste’ in order to take advantage of tax breaks for "disposing of solid waste in environmentally sound fashion". RJ Reynolds argument was that since it was taking this waste and manufacturing it into cigerettes it was disposing of it in a way that qualified it for tax breaks.

The case number is no. COA01-74 in the North Carolina Court of Appeals filed: 19 February 2002.

Aside from the preposterous idea that RJ Reynolds was disposing of millions of pounds of waste by selling it to smokers and therefore deserved a tax break for being good environmental stewards, the summary of this lawsuit reveals information about how RJ Reynolds manufactures its products that ought to give any cigarette smoker pause to realize what suckers they are being made into by this cigarette giant.

Here are a few of the details (emphasis added).
“In manufacturing tobacco products, Reynolds buys tobacco leaves at auction. The tobacco is sent to a stemmery, where the stems (hard, woody part of the leaf) are separated from the lamina portion of the leaf (material in between the stems). The separation process also generates small scraps of tobacco (scraps) and very fine scraps of tobacco (dust). The usable tobacco lamina material is sent to the manufacturing operation where it is blended and processed into cigarettes.”

“The stems, scraps and dust are packed into containers and sent to a storage facility until they are either processed into reconstituted sheet tobacco, through a process known as the G-7 process, or are discarded. The reconstituted sheet tobacco is shredded and blended with the processed lamina strips and made into filler for cigarettes. The reconstituted tobacco filler is part of most brands of cigarettes made by Reynolds, and enables cigarettes to be made with lower tar and nicotine content which has been demanded by smoking consumers.”
“Reynolds uses approximately seventy million pounds of tobacco stems, scrap and dust each year in making reconstituted sheet tobacco. Reynolds also disposes of between five and seven million pounds of tobacco waste materials in landfills each year. This material is of a lower quality than the stems, scrap and dust used in the G-7 process; much of it is generated by the manufacturing process, rather than the stemmery, though some tobacco waste generated by the stemmery is also disposed of.”
“In order to keep up with its production requirements for reconstituted tobacco, Reynolds imports tobacco stems purchased overseas. Reynolds sells reconstituted tobacco to other manufacturers of tobacco products, and manufactures reconstituted sheet tobacco for other tobacco manufacturers, using stems, scraps and dust supplied by them. One of Reynolds' witnesses testified that even if there were no tax incentives for recycling and resource recovery of or from solid waste, Reynolds would still operate the G-7 process because of its cost-effectiveness.”

While its bad enough that this cynical giant corporation wants tax breaks for selling waste to its customers, what isn’t revealed here is that the waste is toxic. That single sentence “In order to keep up with its production requirements for reconstituted tobacco, Reynolds imports tobacco stems purchased overseas” holds the clue. When you look at where RJ Reynolds buys its tons of waste overseas you find that it is coming from countries that have absolutely no regulations on pesticide and other toxic chemical use on tobacco crops. This means that the waste that RJ Reynolds is putting in “most brands of cigarettes” contains high levels of pesticides that are totally banned for use on any crop in the US. These chemicals are knows carcinogens, they are known to destroy nervous systems, they are known to produce deformed babies, and they are known to produce dozens of fatal diseases in humans. Furthermore, carefully-done research studies show that most of these pesticides are far more dangerous to children, young women, Hispanics and African-Americans that they are to white males.

I would like to point out that RJ Reynolds could choose to manufacture its cigarette brands from pure tobacco leaf grown in the US under strict pesticide regulations. The reason it chooses to pack its products with toxic waste is because it is so damned profitable to do se, and because nobody has called them on the practice.

Maybe it’s time to treat the executives and directors of these companies as we would a gang of terrorists or war criminals – they are certainly no better than terrorists/war criminals in their actions. When you think of the millions of people who they have literally murdered for pennies of additional profit, of the thousands of American farming communities they have decimated by destroying one of the greatest sources of rural community wealth the world has ever seen – the American family tobacco farm - then it seems to me that they are both domestic terrorists and international war criminals, and should be treated as such under our justice system.


Bill Drake

Founder of the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company
Author of “The Cultivators Handbook of Natural Tobacco”

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