While I have indulged in an occasional cigar, I have never been a smoker. So, my curiosity in all things tobacco never materialized. Having observed how cigars are hand-rolled, I imagined making cigarettes could not be very difficult. That conjecture was quickly put to rest during our tour of JTI Leaf Services located in Danville, VA. JTI Leaf Services, USA is part of the vertical integrated JTI Tobacco International, one of the largest tobacco product manufacturers in the world. Thus, our tour of the plant quickly dispelled any predispositions I had regarding the production of tobacco products. The entire process is fully mechanized from the intake of leaves to the drying and chopping processes. I was blown away by the sheer scale of the operation and wished I had pictures to proof – photos were not allowed.
JTI Leaf Services purchase tobacco from farmers in Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Tobacco grown in these parts are considered high quality and are in high demand among foreign consumers of tobacco products. The plant manager posited that this may be due to the climate and soil in these states. Regardless of the reason(s), he noted that the global demand appeared to be stable and revenues are up. This was very surprising given the highly publicized health effects of tobacco consumption. However, he noted that the increase in revenue is due to improve efficiency and not necessarily increased smoking. It was refreshing to learn that in spite of spending his entire career in the tobacco industry, the plant manager has never smoked.