What is a cigarette? Not all cigarettes are the same. Smokers around the world prefer many different tastes and strengths. British American Tobacco in Vietnam aims for excellence in every step of manufacturing.

Our companies work to understand the preferences of adult consumers and to design cigarettes to meet them. It’s the preferences of adult consumers that guide our tobacco blends – the mix of tobaccos that we use – and we work to ensure that these grades are available long-term to keep the tastes of our products consistent.

Food-type ingredients and flavourings are added to some types of cigarettes – typically American style blends – to balance the natural tobacco taste, replace sugars lost in curing and give individual brands their characteristic flavour and aroma. Other ingredients control moisture, protect against microbial degradation and act as binders or fillers.

Nicotine is not added in making cigarettes. It occurs naturally in all varieties of tobacco plants.

The filter, paper and level of filter ventilation are all chosen to affect the sensory strength and smoke yield of the cigarette. At each stage, there is constant quality control and testing.

Cigarettes have four basic components:

  • The tobacco rod
  • The cigarette paper around the tobacco rod 
  • The filtration zone
  • The filter and tipping around the filtration zone.

The tobacco rod includes tobacco lamina (the flat part of the tobacco leaf) and tobacco stem (midribs of the leaf).

The cigarette paper includes paper and adhesive.

The filter is made mainly from cellulose acetate fibres, known as tow. Cellulose acetate is derived from wood pulp. The fibres are bonded together with a hardening agent, triacetin plasticiser, which helps the filter to keep its shape. The filter is wrapped in paper and sealed with a line of adhesive. Sometimes charcoal is added to filters.

The tipping paper includes paper and adhesive.

Design adjustments achieve different strengths and tastes, and can reduce smoke yields of various smoke components, as measured by a standardised machine method.

What happens when a cigarette burns?

To understand cigarette design, it helps to know how a cigarette burns. It is the combustion process – the burning of the cigarette – that produces tar. If hay were burned instead of tobacco, it would also produce a type of tar. When an item burns, it produces tiny particles mixed with gases – this is smoke. A cigarette filter traps some of these particles.

When a smoker puffs on a cigarette, whole smoke, including both fine particles and gases, is sucked through the tobacco rod and the filter. Gases pass through the filter and some particles are trapped in it. It is this particulate matter, minus nicotine and water, that is called tar.

Smoke has over 4,000 constituents, many of them also found in the air we breathe and in our food. These constituents include the emissions listed on packs, such as tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide. Water vapour is also produced by the combustion, because the burning of any organic material breaks down the chemical components and produces water.

Tobacco types

Our cigarettes often contain various types of selected tobacco leaves from different countries, blended for aroma, taste and character to meet smokers' taste preferences. There are three main types of tobacco used in cigarettes – Virginia, Burley and Oriental.

  • Virginia or Flue-cured tobacco is named after the US state where it was first cultivated. It is also called 'bright tobacco' because of its yellow to orange colour, achieved during flue-curing. It grows particularly well in subtropical regions with light rainfall, such as Georgia (USA), southern Brazil and Zimbabwe.
  • Burley is a slightly lighter shade of green than Virginia. It needs heavier soils and more fertilisers than Virginia. The best Burley is grown in the US, Central America, Malawi, and Uganda. After being air-cured, the tobacco turns brown with virtually no sugars left in the leaf, giving it an almost cigar-like taste. Combined with Virginia and Oriental tobacco, it makes up an American Blend, as used in brands like Lucky Strike.
  • Oriental is the smallest and hardiest type, grown in the hot summer of the Balkans, Turkey, and the Middle East. These conditions and a high planting density create an aromatic flavour, enhanced by sun-curing, as in a traditional Turkish cigarette. An Oriental blend can contain up to 100% sun cured tobaccos.

Several factors can influence the smoking characteristics, including the variety of plant, how it is harvested and influences such as soil, climate and weather. All these can affect the tobacco’s taste and aroma.