Agri-business News smoker

Published on February 12th, 2010 | by Steve Savage

36

Can Someone Explain “Organic Tobacco” to Me?

Is her cigarette Organic?[social_buttons]

I was at a turf industry trade show yesterday talking to a salesperson from a company that markets Organic fertilizer to golf courses (they describe it as the “natural amino acids found in feather, blood, meat and fish meals”).  There are actually a lot of better, controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer options for turf, but I decided just to be polite and ask if they were also selling into agricultural markets.  He said that they had very good sales for “Organic Tobacco.”  Apparently this is a growing export market to the EU with some domestic sales.

OK, is it just me or is there something wrong with this picture?  Can someone explain the logic here? Why would someone consume the most clearly documented cancer and heart disease-causing consumer product in the world and yet trouble themselves with whether it is “Organic?”

The scientific evidence for the health benefits of eating Organic are actually not as clear as many Organic consumers think, but I don’t believe that anyone could argue that the positives of “Organic” could overcome the health negatives of tobacco! 

Anyway, I’d be interested in your thoughts on this one.

Image of French woman smoking from saneboy



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About the Author

Born in Denver, now living near San Diego. Agricultural scientist for 30+ years with a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology. Have worked for Colorado State University, DuPont and Mycogen and for the last 13 years consulting for all sorts or companies, universities and grower groups. Experience in biological control, natural products, synthetic chemicals, genetics, GMOs and agronomic practices. Have given multiple invited talks on the interaction between agriculture and climate change (both ways)



  • http://www.tobaccopub.com Virginia

    Organic tobacco is just tobacco grown without the use of synthetic chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides.

    Tobacco naturally has nicotine, but the tobacco curing process adds chemicals, like flavorings and preservatives.

    I don’t think organic tobacco would be any better for you unless the actual curing process is what makes the difference. Unless that tobacco claims to be free of preservatives, its about the same. Besides…tobacco is bad for you anyways.

    The nicotine content is about the same in Tobacco before and after curing. You can chew on a tobacco leaf and get the nicotine, but it will taste like a plant. The curing process is what creates that distinct tobacco flavor, color, and smell.

    • http://Web Jman

      It’s like this, Native Americans smoked tobacco and never had cancer. We add all this crap to tobacco and get cancer. It’ snot that it’s good for you but it is better. And all this talk about foot prints is crap. Stop buying into the propaganda. Methane is natural, carbon is natural it’s not bad, it’s required to form the biosphere and the air we breath!

  • Pingback: Cool Green Morning: Friday, February 12 | Cool Green Science: The Conservation Blog of The Nature Conservancy

  • http://yellowrex.com William Furr

    The list of chemicals used in processing regular tobacco is pretty awful. Also, addiction is a terrible thing.

  • http://www.opincoop.org Joe Guinan

    Yes, seems counter intuitive, doesn’t it? See the article linked here for info on the amazing chemical manipulation that can be done to tobacco for smokers…

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/background_briefings/smoking/281167.stm

    If one is “addicted” (using that term lightly), then maybe it makes some sense to go “organic” with the tobacco product used. Still – what’s the point?

  • Matthias

    Although it does seem counter intuitive, organic tobbaco would in fact be less bad (still not a good idea) then tobacco grown with synthetic fertilizers. This is because when phosphate (used in making the phosphorus portion of synthetic fertilizer) is mined from deep under ground it naturally contains Polonium-210. Polonium 210 is a radiocative, and carcinogenic, naturally occuring element in the earths mantle. The Polonium is readily taken up in the tobbacco plant, where it is concentrated in the leaves. When burned and inhaled, the polonium-210 lodges in sensitive lung tissue, where it certainly does no good.

    Here’s a link to science behind the Polonium-210/tobacco issue :

    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/143/3603/247

  • Carleigh

    I think it is important to consider the idea of organic vs non organic in slightly broader terms here. The pervading use of synthetic chemicals in growing can have many adverse effects that extend far beyond the health of the consumer of an end-product like tobacco. Synthetic chemicals’ long-term degradation of soil, plant, air and water quality, not to mention the energy spent in creation, make them quite unsustainable no matter what you are applying them to.

  • http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com Steve Savage

    Carleigh,

    Actually, the copper compounds that would be used for downy mildew control on Organic tobacco have pretty significant environmental effects. If the Organic farmers use flame weeders as is the case in many Organic crops that footprint is far larger than the energy used to make any modern pesticides. If the Organic tobacco is fertilized with composted manure (likely) then the unwanted methane emissions from that process equate to a greenhouse gas footprint many times larger than that of synthetic nitrogen. That fertilizer will continue to release nitrate long after the crop needs it and will tend to have too much phosphorus so both can end up in ground or surface water. Organic is heavily promoted as better for the environment, but it has plenty of issues. Of course since tobacco consumption is the largest single cause of unnecessary illness and death in America, it is pretty hard to justify growing 350,000 acres of this crop by any means

  • Kevin Anderson

    For consumers, the logic is that buying an organic product reduces the overall harm to society caused by conventional farming, regardless of a product’s potential to harm to the consumers themselves. By this logic I prefer organic beef over the conventionally-fed product, despite knowing that the science is pretty clear that I’d be healthier not eating beef at all.

    Also, consumers are not the sole decision-makers at to what products get produced. If tobacco farmers draw their own drinking water from aquifers fed by their own runoff, they could conclude that they’d be better off using organic methods rather than conventional ones, even if they didn’t smoke. And the same logic works for other decision-makers: landowners, agricultural ministers, voters, etc.

  • Tony

    Apparently a lot of the cancer causing chemicals are not in the tobacco leaf itself, but in the 100’s of chemicals that are sprayed onto the leaf afterwards to improve taste, burning, addictiveness etc. How do you think every Camel tastes the same? It is not because they are using the same strain of tobacco grown in the same area. The tobacco is just the vehicle for the cigarette companies to transport the chemicals that people are addicted to on.
    Organic Tobacco is just the leaf grown organically without any chemicals added afterwards. Still containing Nicotine and dangerous when smoked every day, but not nearly as addictive or carcinogenic as the branded cigarettes.

  • Norm

    In the States, Natives sell a brand of cigarettes that say “All Natural Native” on the cover in large letters,..and below in smaller letters “non addictive”. The Natives claim these cigarettes do not have all the chemicals others do,..only nicotine and tar. This would indeed make them natural,..but again,
    what happens during the processing,..what kind of water suppy,…handling ? Better for a person to grow their own, if they had the time and space. Then I suppose you have to worry about animals cocking their legs upon it…and if it were legal. So many laws against the peoples rights. And with the manipulated air, water, and food today, we need to revamp the whole system of things. Fortunately, a major change is on the horizon. This is not life nor living as was intended.

  • Bryan Luukinen

    The comments posted here about the oxymoronic potential of organic tobacco begetting “healthy smoking” are right on. True, using organic methods to produce tobacco would be (potentially) less detrimental to the environment because of the lack of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. HOWEVER, there are hundreds of pesticides that can be used in organic agriculture (take a look at all the organic pesticides listed here: http://www.omri.org/omri-lists). These “chemicals” are still harmful to the environment in large amounts and can adversely affect precious natural resources. Take a quick look at the toxic effects of sulfur (a popular fungicide in organic wine production) in small amounts and its disastrous effect on salmonids.

    Aside from that, tobacco is consumed by people in a manner far different than most fruits and vegetables that are organically produced. The process of burning tobacco itself creates THOUSANDS of chemicals that were not in the original leaf of tobacco, or even the cigarette, no matter how many chemicals and flavorings were added to it in processing. These combustion byproducts are very similar to the combustion byproducts of wood and other combustible, organic materials. Combustion creates nasty chemicals like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and a whole bunch of other carcinogenic substances. Unfortunately, organic tobacco is not the free pass to a healthy lifestyle that smokers would hope it is. Breathing in smoke is not good for you. Period. It doesn’t matter if it’s smoke from french white truffles. It’s still bad. You’re better off eating the cigarette.

  • http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com Steve Savage

    Bryan,
    many good points. A friend was explaining to me tonight that many of the chemicals added to regular cigarette tobacco are simply there to make sure that the cigarette keeps burning even if the smoker is not inhaling. The goal is to make sure that the customers need the maximum number of packs/day. That is a truly disgusting concept, but I agree with Bryan that there is still not rational reason to smoke.

  • russ

    Hi Steve – İ believe you friend is not correct.

    Actually some of the chemicals are now the cause the cigarette to go out if you don’t puff on it – helps prevent fires. İn the US you have to puff – the rest of the world does not have that.

  • Mark

    interesting comments. I would have guessed that it would be better environmentally, and that there are likely environmentally-minded smokers. Looks like I fall into the ignorant population! But I don’t smoke, so I’m one up on those who buy organic tobacco because of green-guilt.

  • Matt S.

    But what of the arsenic and other known poisons. In order to label a cigarette organic, these wonderful things would need to be produced organically as well? Huh? None of this makes sense.

    I’m with the author on this one. I have no problem saying that you’re an idiot for smoking, but you are a huge moron for buying into organic tobacco as a way to reduce your risks!

    I mean, really; inhaling the byproducts of leaves laced with poisons after lighting them on fire. That’s just a tribute to the direction of mankind’s overall intelligence.

  • Jesse

    Bryan you make some valid points, but your view is warped. I’m a smoker, I enjoy it, I also loathe it. I plan on quitting sometime, but in the meantime I would prefer an organic cigarette. Why? Organic cigarettes should, in theory, be healthier.

    Perhaps there are unhealthy “organic” chemicals fertilizers, this is news to me and I’m going to look into it, however I don’t feel these chemicals(especially if they can cause cancer) should be labeled “organic fertilizer”.

    I want a cigarette with lower levels of added harmful chemicals and heavy metals. Just because a product is unhealthy, doesn’t mean we should continually make said product worst and worst for peoples health based off of the faulty logic “cigarettes are BAD so who cares what they add to them”.

    Breathing in any smoke is not good for you. However, as you know, certain smokes are worst for you than others. Look at the difference between marijuana and cigarettes, both produce a smoke, however they have different long term effects on the body.

    I must disagree with your last statement. If you feed cigarettes to a child they will get very ill and potentially die. However, if they smoked those cigarettes it would be extremely unhealthy for them, but they wouldn’t die.

  • Jesse

    I’d also like to add that I’d much rather smoke a cigarette rolled in natural tobacco leaves instead of one rolled in _bleached_ paper.

  • Brittany

    No doubt that this is not healthier for the smoker. Everyone should stop smoking. I should hope that no one concious enough to look for organic products would be fooled by this.

    However, I don’t think that is the point. I have worked in the natural/organic industry for years and I used to live in NC where a lot of tobacco is still grown and organic tobacco(but not always marketed so). Organic tobacco is like organic cotton. It is not a health choice but an environmental one. Cotton and tobacco are the leaders in use of the most harmful, proven carcinogenic pesticides. So it may not help the smoker but most certainly the quality of soil, water and wild life, plant life and community health in the area receiving run off from these farms. Also, farmers who wants to grow other food products or organic products may not want that poluting their certification but needs the cash crop tobacco provides to stay afloat.
    I think that for many consumers eating locally and organically is also not completely about the health benifits but about the environmental impact.

  • Me Ne

    Organic tobacco is grown in the absence of chemicals. One can purchase organic tobacco and chew on it, and enjoy the nicotine.

    If you look it up, nicotine is no less healthy for you than caffeine.

    The cancer-causing properties in cigarettes are from the chemicals added to it. Repeatedly inhaling smoke will also cause problems, but that is an individual choice.

    I grown my own tobacco. I don’t cure it, I just plug a bit off and chew it. The nicotine is awesome, but not addictive like people think. It is the stuff added to the cigarettes that make it addictive.

  • JT

    Nicotine is not harmful to humans unless in high dosages. It is the additives to traditional cigarettes that are. For five years I had smoked traditional ones. I then switched to American Spirit which is 100% additive free. Just by doing this alone, I helped eliminate over 1500 harmful chemicals from my body. I know am able to work out as well as breath better plus taste has improved as well as skin. Wow, that was truly a run on sentence. Do I support smoking, not one bit, however nicotine is a drug and is addictive. You can read all the studies and reports on cigarettes as well as other peoples comments. The true decider is you. Is there a such thing as a safe cigarette, no! However, there are alternative nicotine products that are MUCH MORE HEALTHIER such as organic or electronic. However, with electronic cigarettes, you have to do your own research on the company as well as testing. I have an electronic cigarette from zigcigs. I spent over two months reviewing reports and case studies as well as financial and economical gains and grants to the FDA to protect traditional companies profits. My personal decision was that I will use an electronic cigarette, as well as American Spirits. I will never again use traditional cigarettes. I always stunk, as well as felt gloomy. I would also advise you speak to a TRUE trusted medical professional. My Dr. informed me that if I felt I must smoke, a pack a week is the limit instead of one a day. Remember, science is forever changing. Eggs are bad, then good then back to bad. We may never truly know the answer from the media. Trust your instinct. The answer is within yourself. The end result is that it is all hype. What type of a moron would consider that inhaling 1500 less hazardous chemicals from the body is bad. This news article above is crap and holds no truth. You be the judge. 1500+ chemicals or not. You decide. Remember the media is bias. There are no true journalist anymore. Someone high up must always be protected.

    • JT

      I also wanted to add another notion to this posting, alcohol destroys humans and is bad, however it is still consumed. Milk and meat are not the best to our diet at the moment due to high consumption. Also consider the causes of cancer such as the writer of the article did. Yes, cigarette smoking causes cancer, however did you notice that the writer of the article does not mention the truth behind the product. What a true journalist would have written is that the additives in cigarettes are the cause of cancer, not the nicotine. There you have it everyone. The truth. All of the studies done have been with additive tobacco products, which in deed do increase the odds of cell mutation. Also, not that no cell in the body is over three weeks old. Our bodies are constantly deleting and creating new cells. Hair, teeth, nails etc not included in the previous statement. It is this constant changes that traditional additive products come in to promote cell mutation. So take the article about smoking written by S. Savage and throw it out the window. The article holds no true logic and is simply reiterated mumbo-jumbo regurgitated from someone else. In no way am I intending to insult the author, however I do question their logic and ability to research before posting an article on tobacco.
      I would also like to not that there is no in depth material on the lies behind organic either. The author makes a statement without backing it up. However, it is true that the whole organic hype is just that, hype. But I would have liked to seen an explanation rather than an opinion from the author.
      ***Knowledge is powerful. STAY IN SCHOOL***

  • 007

    JT>>>> Very well put!

  • pb

    Most of you guys are crazy, choosing organic tobacco has nothing to do with the saving the environment. The commercial mass market cigarettes are processed with 100s of known dangerous chemicals to standardize flavor, make them burn faster, supposedly even to increase addictiveness, ect; Organic Tobacco It is definitely no where near as dangerous as this chemical laced stuff.

    Yes it is well documented that burning any organic material can create some carcinogenic combustion products, but without all the additives the amounts of dangerous compounds one would be exposed to from smoking would be significantly limited; probably to the point where occasional responsible use would likely not increase cancer risk at all, where the typical addicted user who smokes frequently would likely still have increased risk of smoker related illness, but it would still be much lower than if that person smoked the same amount of commercial cigarettes.

    Tobacco is a god given plant, with many uses. Occasional natural tobacco use is enjoyable and probably not all that harmful. There is controversy over how organic American spirts is, seeing as it is owned by phillip morris. Grow your own, it is very easy, curing sounds like trouble – Ive never done it- but it may not be as tough as it sounds. I have a couple plants I grab a fresh leaf off for a chew once or twice a week, not smoking, but very pleasant and definitley no where near as dangerous as commercial tobacco…

  • http://Web Segue

    If, for once, a smoker will think about somebody besides themselves, they will realize that what you choose to purchase also impacts the health of your community and your world. Being as how the pesticides utilized on tobacco are some of the most dangerous neurotoxins known to man, choosing organic means you are minimizing the damage to farmer health and dramatically reducing toxins that enter the water supply and the ground which then impact a host of living organisms and ultimately impact the health and happiness of us all. The choice to purchase organic tobacco for a smoker should be as clear as the choice to purchase organic meat for a non-vegetarian.

  • http://Web Miguel Sanchez

    Actually, organic fertilizers tend to have a more beneficial affect on soil microorganisms, which aid in nutrient uptake through the roots. However, as I think you noticed, it doesn’t take long for industry to take organic matter, break it down into individual components and then sell those components as organic. Eventually, we end up with the same problem of microorganism die off as we had with chemical fertilizer.

    The spirit of organics was the concept of plowing under fields with composting mixed organic matter in ways the replenish that which may have been depleted by previous crops.

    Poor practices like intensive crop farming without rotation and only adding nutrients required by a specific plant with regard for the need of the microorganisms explains why food crops have had declining nutrient values over the last few decades (ignoring issues related to GM crops).

    In terms of tobacco, the original concept was one of harm reduction and was usually coupled with additive-free processing, so that the end product contained as few adulterants as possible.

    If interested, you will be able to find a growing body of peer reviewed scientific evidence that tobacco, even in its smoked form, actually has health benefits that, in moderate consumption (5-10 cigarettes a day) might carry more benefit than risk and the negative cost to human health may be attributed to the additives and fertilizer.

    That’s the idea anyway and to many, this seems like common sense.

    Miguel

    • http://Web Eduardo Silveyra

      I would love to know if you have links or sources to these peer review articles of how tobacco may actually be benificial to you. Many people dont know that the additives or harmful chemicals they list, around 4000 in some cases, are added and have no connection to the dried tobacco leaf, nicotine of course is an alkolide so it is present. I want my father to stop smoking but he wont, so if i can find any sort of evidence that additive free tobacco may not be as harmful as the additive cigarattes then it may well be worth looking into it. Appreciate it!

  • http://Web DJ

    I’ve always wondered if anyone besides myself finds the term “smoking related illness” somewhat suspicious or vague. To further my suspicion on this term, recently my uncle passed away. Throughout his entire life, he consumed mostly fatty, fried, and sugary foods. He never exercised, he consumed alcohol heavily on a daily basis, and he smoked a pack a day until about 30 years ago. In his medical records, there was documentation of his previous smoking habits. There was also documentation stating he stopped smoking roughly 30 years ago. Heart disease killed him. The last week of his life was spent in a hospital bed with close monitoring from various machines and nurses. The doctor, never mentioning my uncle’s former cigarette use, told my family bad drinking, eating habits and lack of exercise are what got him to this point; which makes 100% perfect sense. Then he passed away.

    Now? My uncles is labeled as having died from “smoking related illness”. A friend of mine’s grandmother had a very similar death. She once smoked, and there’s documentation of that in her medical records; she stopped smoking, then died at the age of 89, and her death is labeled as being caused from “smoking related illness”.

    So if there’s any documentation in your medical record stating you’ve ever smoked, you’re death, no matter the cause (with the exception of a car crash or skydiving accident) will be defaulted to a “smoking related illness”.

    I’m not suggesting that smoking isn’t harmful. But I’m not far from believing McDonald’s, KFC, PizzaHut, Budweiser, Jack Daniels, Coca-Cola, and Starbucks are equally as terrible for your body. Smoking a freshly dried organic tobacco leaf can’t possibly be as terrible for you as a Big Mac with fries and a Coke. I personally believe the facts and numbers we all hear about tobacco smoke, and “tobacco related illness” are insultingly exaggerated. Then people ask me “why would they care to do that?”

    Well, I’ve learned a few things, but unfortunately my answer to that sounds to much like a conspiracy theory. But other cultures have smoked for centuries, leading relatively long lives… up until recently.

    The bottom line: organic tobacco smoke IS better than chemical soaked tobacco. You’d be out of your mind to think otherwise.

    • http://Web Ivo

      Exactly what I think. Thank you, DJ!
      Did you know that tobacco in cigarettes can have up to 499 additives? These are supposed to “improve” the tobacco quality, thus tobacco will become more aromatic, addictive, etc.. All these 499 additives are BAD !!! Google for more info. I remember when I was a kid there was a guy from Georgia aged at 126 years, who smoked natural (organic) tobacco for the whole his life. So the cigarettes these days use most of these 499 additives and they are a lot more harmful than the cigarettes produced with organic tobacco. BTW the same applies to our food as well. Mass production food is not good for you. Organically produced food in small batches is the way to go. :-)

  • http://appliedmythology@blogspot.com Steve Savage

    DJ,
    I think you make some good points about smoking death statistics. Lifestyle choices have different outcomes for different people because of some combination of genetics, combined factors and luck. Some people get by with smoking their whole life and some die young from involuntary second-hand smoke exposure.

    Lots of people worry far to much about what they eat/drink when diversity and moderation are what really makes sense. So, for instance I enjoy having some French fries may once or twice a month. I actually liked them better back in my teenage years when McDonalds cooked them in beef tallow. That was actually healthier than the period where they were cooked in dehydrogenated vegetable oil with transfats.

  • http://Web Marcus E. Pinson III

    well people who puff tobacco for the taste (people who dont inhale) like it because there is far less crap in it to muck up the flavor, and the primary reason that most consumer tobacco is bad is because they grow it with radioactive fertalizer and they cant get all of that radiation back out of the plants after its harvested so they chop it up and soak it in toxic chemicals to draw some of it out then they rinse it dry it and roll it up into ciggarets (this dosent happen with organic so it is less toxic and hence forth slightly less dangerous)

  • http://Web oregonic

    I’m tickled by this notion of organic tobacco myself, but I hope we can all agree that the word is just that; a word. How each crop is grown can vary wildly depending on all kinds of factors, including (but not at all limited to) irrigation, as brought up by a previous commenter. When all is said and done, two very different end products can each get ‘organic’ smacked on the front of the packaging, priced 25% higher, assuaging the the consciences guilt-laden of green freaks everywhere.

    The ideas behind what a catch phrase like “organic tobacco” stands for — environmentally sound, well-intentioned, responsible, holistic agricultural practices in the cultivation of tobacco and the industry surrounding it — are valid, and both smokers and non-smokers are wise to consider these ideas as an alternative to the current scheme of things. If we can prevent ourselves from getting caught up in the semantics of the thing, the slogans of organic this, organic that, which grow emptier and emptier with each use, and really leave singular terms like ‘organic’ behind in favor of an overall outlook on how to best raise a crop, growing “good tobacco” is entirely possible. and yes, eliminate irrigation with fluoridated municipal water, the use of phosphate fertilizers and all additives and you have most definitely made many a step in the right direction, but that’s only the beginning.

  • http://appliedmythology@blogspot.com Steve Savage

    One can’t eliminate the use of phosphate fertilizers or you will eventually be unable to grow on land where the phosphorus has been depleted. All you can do is be careful about the rate and placement. That is problematic for Organic. Most Organic crops are fertilized with compost originating from animal manures and those have excess phosphorus relative to the amount of nitrogen. This is why farms near the Chesapeake Bay are paid by a state program to truck their manure far away from the water. Also, I think irrigation with fluoridated municipal water is very rare – mainly an issue for backyard gardeners

  • http://Web Not really organic

    Organic is a new thing in tobacco…. It would be better if it really were organic and additive free…. Less people smoking = problems for big tobacco = LIES LIES and LIES

  • http://Web Clarence W

    Your logic is abysmal! Perhaps the substances/chemicals added to the tobacco are the carcinogens! Besides, cancer is curable; Burzynski/Gerson etc. etc. etc.
    Read and think more, you may discover something other than conventional mainstream stupidity!

    • http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com Steve Savage

      I’m always amazed at how long this comment stream keeps going. You guys should all be dead by now!

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