The creaking tree Fitness

A brief history of herbal cigarettes

A cigarette is a lot like a sausage: you’re better off not knowing what’s inside. You might think it’s tobacco, but this is not true. According to experts, it contains a reconstituted tobacco product known as ‘sheet’, the ingredients of which include recycled tobacco stems, stalks, and floor sweepings, plus glue and chemicals. This is then sprayed with nicotine and shaped into curls. As a smoker, I’m okay with everything else, but the floor sweepings are a bit of a no-no.

I have personally observed the whole process, at the factory of a leading Indian company, who shall remain nameless because of lawyers. It was a vast and active enterprise, with two long chutes feeding into one massive hopper. One chute supplied the stems and stalks, while the other supplied tobacco leaves. I asked the manager what he did when the Government increased taxes on cigarettes, expecting to learn about economics. “We just increase the amount of stalks we put in,” he said.

The cigarette was originally invented in Mexico. They had already invented tacos. They tried smoking them, but they were not very satisfying, so they invented cigarettes. By the 17th Century, they had spread to Spain. The rest is history. Over the last couple of centuries, people have been putting other things in cigarettes, giving birth to the herbal variety. Mint, cinnamon and lemon grass are particular favourites. The more adventurous look beyond herbs and include things like rose and cloverleaf. Others add lettuce or cabbage, giving vegetarians the opportunity to smoke their meals. Most famously, a local entrepreneur in Indonesia added cloves to the tobacco, thus giving birth to the Kretek, named for the sound made by burning cloves.

It’s important to note that none of these are particularly good for your health, because burning things and inhaling them is not the best thing to do. My only experience with herbal cigarettes was in college, with a Kretek. I was sitting in the back of a mini bus. This was a kinder, gentler era, when smoking was allowed in buses. I was sitting at the back, and I lit up my first Kretek. As the bus filled with the unmistakable sickly sweet aroma, several passengers towards the front started looking around, and said, “Who is that? Who?” with various degrees of menace. One of them started rolling up his sleeves. I carefully dropped the Kretek down the side of the window, taking care not to make any sudden movements. Since then, I have stuck to regular cigarettes, floor sweepings and all. They kill you just as often, and the chances of getting beaten up are a lot less.

In Shovon Chowdhury’s most recent novel, Murder With Bengali Characteristics, nobody smokes, but a resurrected Jyoti Basu drinks.

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 8:26:12 PM |

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