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An innovation-revolution in RYO: rolling your tobacco with organic, vegan and bio-degradable materials

An innovation-revolution in RYO: rolling your tobacco with organic, vegan and bio-degradable materials

Jun 28, 2017


Author: Sharad Aggarwal is the Executive Vice-President, Operations at Godfrey Philips India.

History has been witness to debate regarding the ‘invention’ of rolling tobacco. While it has been largely attributed to the British and French soldiers during the Crimean war in the mid 1800s, others believe it was the Spanish who originally invented rolling paper. In the 1700s, Napoleon’s soldiers had been using pages from books to roll tobacco. Seeing this, he contracted a French company Lacroix to mass produce these rolling papers. The original Frenchman Lacroix is believed to have traded a bottle of champagne for rolling papers from French soldiers who were carrying them back from Spain.

But that’s a debate for another time. In the tobacco business, cigarettes may have become a global, modern and large-scale business. But RYO or ‘Roll Your Own’ cigarettes continue to command a niche market – as a product that is both cost effective and one that is emblematic of individualism and freedom.

So what exactly is RYO and what are the various components that go into making an RYO product? For the uninitiated, it might just conjure up an image of putting leaves in a paper, rolling it and having a quick smoke. It’s much more than that. The process of rolling the tobacco is considered by many as an art form in itself, and the choice of products – a reflection of fine taste. Given that people have been rolling cigarettes with paper for around 400 odd years now (for thousands of years with corn paper or hand), it would suffice to say that the space has seen numerous developments, trends and even statements. But how is RYO different from cigarettes? There are two components to this answer – the process of making it and the ingredients involved.

How does a roll-your-own cigarette work?

All you need is some tobacco (of your choice – there are many brands and varieties available in the market), rolling paper and optionally a filter tip. Once the tobacco leaves are evenly distributed along the length of the sheet, the user just has to roll it up, lick the glue end and seal it. You can then add the roach or tip to one end and it’s ready to use.

Rolling machines or devices are also available to help roll cigarettes if one is lacking a bit on the skill department or if you want a more even finish.

Tobacco: Roll-your-own-tobacco is processed fine tobacco that a user places inside a rolling paper to smoke. Like for cigarettes, tobacco for RYO is cultivated and mixed to make different blends and flavours. The tobacco is sold in pouches by tobacco companies under different brands. Recent market studies have shown an increasing demand for organic tobacco, additive-free and chemical-free tobacco and bio-degradable tobacco by-products.

Rolling paper: Just like advancements in research, cultivation and processing have changed the method of tobacco-processing, the process of making rolling paper too has come a long way. From simple pages of a book to rice paper to multiple varieties, users are today spoilt for choice. Rolling paper and tobacco product manufacturers offer laser-embossed paper, juicy-flavoured sheets, printed design and gold-lined paper – the list of innovations is extensive. But with increasing awareness about eco-sustainability, the need for the past decade has been signaling towards organic, unbleached, chemical-free paper. Tobacco product companies have invested intellectual capital and used scientific R&D to develop products that are bio-degradable, with the focus shifting to treeless paper. Hemp, cotton, fruit pulp and vegetable parts are fast becoming the choice ingredients for rolling paper.

Filter roaches: Filter tip and roaches are made from cardboard, hemp, cotton and even organic pulp. This stops the end of the rolling paper from becoming wet and soggy and filters out some of the tar and chemicals. Filter tips are available in a variety of sizes and materials including gummed tips, glass tips, mentholated, activated charcoal and so on. A number of companies also produce roaches made using organic materials and infused with varying flavours.

While cigarettes and RYO products command different target markets, users are known to have switched over from the former to the latter. Large parts of Europe are strong RYO markets, with the price advantage and freedom to choose individual ingredients working in its favour. And with an increasing awareness and need to be eco-sustainable in the choice of smoking, users are turning towards organic and chemical-free RYO products – a need that manufacturers are fulfilling with increased research and innovation in the tobacco and related products space.


Blend: A mix of different varieties of tobacco leaves and other additives including flavours

Roaches: A roach is the left-over part of a roll-up cigarette after most of it has been smoked. Roaches act as filters, absorbing tar and other elements from an RYO cigarette

Filter tips: Filter tips are cylindrical attachments that are fitted on to the smoking end of an RYO cigarette.

Treeless paper: Rolling paper is now widely being made from fruit pulp, vegetable pulp, cultivated cotton and so on – which means no trees are being cut to make the paper

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