Just as the actions of a few bad apples in a large group can taint the public conception of all its members, due to the revelations about some of the substances used in the manufacture of cigarettes, people seem to believe that the additives used in pipe tobaccos are similarly harmful. The truth is, beside the fact that, in general, pipe smokers don’t inhale the smoke, the additives used are very different. I’ll use this blog post to explain about what’s in many pipe tobaccos other than tobacco.
Flavorings- There are two types of flavorings used in tobaccos. The first type is called a casing. Pretty much any blend that contains Virginia or Burley tobaccos have been cased. These flavorings aren’t used as much to add taste or aroma as to mitigate any negative properties of the raw leaf. Burley, for example, has a bit of a sour note, so sweeteners may be added, such as molasses or licorice, mixed with water and steamed into the tobacco. The sweetener won’t be noticed very much, but it keeps the tobacco from becoming unpalatable. Once the casing is applied, the tobacco then needs to be dried out a bit.
The other kind of flavoring is called a top dressing and is used for aroma and flavor purposes. These are flavors much like those used in making food, but when producing top dressings, the fluid that carries the flavor is usually alcohol. This is so the flavor can be applied without having to run the tobacco through the drying chamber again. The alcohol simply evaporates off.
Humectants- Humectants are agents that help keep moisture levels consistent in tobacco, but they’re also used in food products that can dry out and go stale. There are a number of substances that can do the job. Some sugar alcohols, primarily sorbitol and xylitol, do the job, but caution has to be used as these are quite sweet and can throw off the flavor. Others that don’t impact flavors include glycerin and the one that is most commonly used: propylene glycol. They work by absorbing moisture from the ambient atmosphere. These are all food-grade additives and are considered safe. Without them, it would be virtually impossible for the tobacco to remain moist in anything other than a vacuum sealed container for more than a week or two.
Antifungals- These additives exist to keep moist tobacco from becoming moldy. There are a number of safe products that are use to stem the growth, and this is important as there are mold spores virtually everywhere.
There are no additives being used to keep the tobacco burning or to raise the nicotine levels. In this regard, pipe tobacco and cigarette tobacco are very dissimilar.
Please understand that I’m not saying that there are no risks involved in smoking any form of tobacco. What I am saying is that pipe tobacco is nowhere near as treated and manipulated as cigarettes, and as such shouldn’t be lumped together, but the anti-tobacco zealots want to do so because it would be easier to completely eliminate the industry than it would be to differentiate between cigarettes, premium cigars, machine-made cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, moist snuff, snus, nasal snuff, etc.
Regardless, there are fewer additives in pipe tobacco, and they’re generally safer than those used in the mass-manufactured products.
If you want to make sure that the tobacco you smoke is at its optimum, some things outside of tobacco need to be present, but they may well be safer than some of the chemicals added to the processed foods we eat. Go figure.