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Making cigarettes – tobacco, paper, high-tech manufacturing and the art of blending

Jun 13, 2017


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

A cigarette stick might seem like a very simple contraption. In terms of usage, that might definitely be the case. But the number of components that go into producing a cigarette is extensive, and the process – dramatically high tech and artistic at the same time. So what are the key elements in a cigarette and how is cigarette manufacturing a blend of science and art?

Tobacco: That’s the most obvious element in a cigarette. Tobacco – which was originally found as a wild growth and is also now extensively cultivated in countries like India, Brazil, China, Turkey, Zimbabwe and the US. There are broadly four types of tobacco leaves that can be used in manufacturing cigarettes – Flue cured, Dark air cured, Sun cured and Oriental. Tobacco that is grown under very specific temperature and moisture conditions is then harvested using either the priming or stalk cutting methods. The tobacco leaves are then appropriately cured. When these tobacco leaves reach the factory after threshing and curing, technology takes over. Completely automated primary processing equipment ensures maintenance of moisture levels to a pre-determined set standard. Computer assisted high-end equipment carry out blending of different types of tobacco grades and a number of additives, including flavour, to precision.

After this very long drawn-out and complex processing of tobacco – THE most vital element in a cigarette – the other components make their entry.

Cigarette paper: The shredded and blended tobacco is dispersed over a continuous roll of cigarette paper. The main job of the paper is to keep the tobacco enclosed and it has to fulfill a long list of physical and chemical properties before it can be put to use. The quality of cigarette paper is determined by three main factors – burn quality, air permeability and natural porosity. Cigarette paper itself can be, apart from normal, transparent, coloured or flavoured. Once this second very vital element makes its way to the manufacturing facility, long sheets with glue on one end are rolled out by automated machines, filled with tobacco inside. These are then cut to pre-fed sizes.

And this is when vital element number three comes in. The cigarette filter. Made from either crepe paper, cellulose acetate fibre or activated charcoal, cigarette filters were first patented in 1925. Effectiveness of filters are measured by two specific parameters – draw resistance (pressure drop) and filtration efficiency.

On the assembly line, pre-cut filters are attached on to the sticks of paper-rolled tobacco. By now, the product almost looks like a complete cigarette.

Imitation cork tipping paper: The filter is joined to the cigarette tip using imitation cork tip paper, a brownish yellow colour paper. Traditionally, cigarettes were produced using only this material. But with the advent and importance of branding catching on, tipping paper of every size and colour is being manufactured to personalize cigarettes. Cigarette tip papers are available plain, printed, coloured, laminated, sweetener infused and at times, laser perforated.

Capsule: A capsule is a small flavoured bead embedded in the cigarette’s filter, allowing the user to crush it at a time of his/her choosing to add flavour to the smokng experience. The most common flavoured capsule added to cigarettes is a mentholated one.

Cigarette manufacturers have constantly innovated to add variety and customization to the smoking experience, capsules being one such creation. Twistable moving filters allowing the user to vary the strength of the cigarette and double-capsule mentholated cigarettes are a few such innovations in cigarette manufacturing.

Automation, computer controlled level determiners and rapid production units have all made cigarette manufacturing and tobacco processing a precise, scientific and quality controlled process, allowing for minute permutations in composition. But behind all this science, tobacco companies still rely on the age-old tradition of hand blending by expert tobacconists to create blends infused with character that machines can only implement. From cultivating specific types of tobacco leaves to discovering and creating exquisite and exclusive blends, cigarette manufacturing is a seamless combination of science and art.

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