We Have Sugar To Thank For The American Tobacco Industry

Image courtesy of Adam Fagen

If you’ve ever tried to give up eating sugar, you know that the sweet stuff has a strong hold on our brains. What you may not realize, though, is that sugar’s addictive and delicious power also is part of another common addiction that we’ve perfected and exported: tobacco.

Bloomberg News shared this lost bit of history, which is recounted in a new book, The Case Against Sugar. Author Gary Taubes explains that sugar was used to make tobacco more addictive, but not in the way you might think.

Flue-curing (essentially smoking tobacco like a brisket) is a traditional way to cure tobacco that keeps the plant’s natural sugar but decreases nicotine content. At the beginning of the 20th century, someone devised a two-step process of air-curing leaves to keep the nicotine content high, then soaking them in sugar to get the sweet flavor back.

Camels were the first cigarettes to include the sugar-soaked tobacco in its blend, and other brands later began using it, too. This is a history that neither the tobacco industry nor the sugar industry want to talk about or even know a lot about now, but sixty years ago it was considered a good thing.

Taubes quotes a former U.S. Department of Agriculture official who had oversight of tobacco, who explained that “the American blended cigarette and with it the tobacco industry of the United States would not have achieved such tremendous development as it did in the first half of [the 20th] century.”

Studies do show, by the way, that adding sugar to tobacco doesn’t make the smoke more deadly, but does improve the flavor and make people want to smoke more.