Herbal cigarettes are fast emerging as a popular alternative to regular ones. As against the regular cigarettes, the "purely herbal" ones do not contain tobacco, and hence are also devoid of nicotine. However, many researchers have claimed, that tobacco-free smoking has its own set of health hazards, and cannot be considered as a 100% safe and healthy approach. Nevertheless, the popularity and use of such cigarettes are on the rise.
Smoking of herbs for medicinal purposes has been a practice in many ancient civilizations. However, it was the Mayan civilization which introduced the world to tobacco plant and the ecstasies of smoking tobacco leaves. Traces of nicotine have been found in the Mayan flasks by a team of researchers at University at Albany, New York. This trend soon spread, and eventually led to the emergence of the tobacco industry and commercialization of various tobacco products, including cigarettes. However, the rising awareness of health risks associated with tobacco and nicotine necessitated the development of alternatives. As a result, the ancient concept of using herbs materialized into a cigarette containing nine Indian herbs, but no tobacco, and the first herbal cigarette was born under the brand name Maans Nirdosh. It was based on the principles of Ayurveda, the Indian system of traditional medicine. The rising health concerns and the political scenario in UK after the Second World War contributed to the development and commercialization of herbal cigarettes in UK. In the year 1947, a British chemist concocted a tobacco-free smoking mixture consisting of herbs, and birth of the brand Honeyrose followed. Later on, in 1990s the Ecstacy cigarette brand developed and rose to fame. In 2002, an Indian duo, Rohit Prakash and Nayana Prakash, formulated a unique blend consisting of Indian herbs and patented the same. Cigarettes containing this blend are commercially marketed under the name Treat by Somya Inc., USA. Various other companies followed suit and many new brands came up.
Herbal cigarettes contain a mixture of different herbs and natural products including basil, cloves, cardamom, turmeric, marshmallow leaves, sunflower petals, rose petals, raspberry leaves, passion flowers, red clover flowers, corn silk, wild lettuce, catnip, eucalyptus, peppermint etc. Honey, fruit juices, clarified butter and essential oils are used as the liquid medium to prepare the blend. The powdered herbal elements are marinated using the appropriate liquid medium. The marinated mixture is then pressed and baked to obtain the final blend. Natural flavoring agents like vanilla, ginseng, menthol, cinnamon, lemon grass etc., are also used. Through an automated process, the blend is rolled into paper tubes, filter tips are attached, and the cigarettes are packed. Some brands offer cigarettes with a mix of herbal components and low amounts of tobacco. The combination of ingredients used, and their exact composition varies with the brand and individual product.
Honeyrose and Ecstacy cigarettes are the most widely popular herbal cigarette brands. Some of the well-known brands have been listed below:
- Honeyrose offers cigarettes with a blend of marshmallow, rose petals, sunflower petals and passion flowers. Honeyrose special has a mix of marshmallow, red clover and rose petals. Honeyrose De Luxe contains honey and apple juice in addition to the herbs. The other flavors available are vanilla, ginseng, menthol, chocolate, strawberry and cherry.
- Ecstacy Cigarettes containing wild lettuce, catnip, passion flower, skull cap (a herb of the mint family) are available in regular and menthol flavor. Variants containing lotus leaves, corn silk and liquorice root are available as Ecstacy Red, Ecstacy Mild and Ecstacy White.
- Smoke-Free Non Nicotine is a cigarette containing extracts from the shells of cocoa beans. These are available in regular and menthol flavors and are manufactured by Nicotine Free USA, LLC.
- NTB herbal cigarettes, containing extracts from hazelnut tree, papaya, peppermint and eucalyptus, are offered by NTB (Arkopharma).
- American Indian is a brand name of cigarettes containing blend of Camellia sinensis (tea leaves), honeysuckle, chrysanthemum, mulberry leaves, purple perilla and lotus leaves.
- Maans Nirdosh cigarettes contain basil, cloves, liquorice, turmeric, cinnamon and four other Indian herbs.
- Guocao is a Chinese brand of herbal cigarettes containing chrysanthemum, honeysuckle and many kinds of Chinese medicinal herbs.
- Other well-known brands include Treat, Herbalette, Herbal One, Han Cao, Jambi and Jieyanling.
- The absence of nicotine makes these cigarettes a safer, healthier and non-addictive approach as compared to regular smoking.
- Their use aids to get rid of tobacco/nicotine addiction. The course proposed is to gradually shift from regular cigarettes to herbal ones, thus ending the nicotine addiction. The use of herbal cigarettes can then be easily reduced, since they are non-addictive.
- Some of the herbal components are known to have medicinal value. For example, basil is useful to treat hypertension, reduce congestion, fever and decrease blood sugar levels. Certain herbs improve digestion and help to prevent disorders pertaining to the digestive system.
- Herbal cigarettes are also known to cleanse and soothe the throat.
- It has been claimed that the natural ingredients do not have any negative effects on the mental and physical well-being of the smoker. In fact, they help calm and relax the senses, and have a soothing effect on the nerves.
Are They Really Safe?
Whether herbal cigarettes are safe or not has been a debatable issue since their development. Research suggests that smoke of any kind - if inhaled - is dangerous. Though they are tobacco- and nicotine-free, they are known to produce harmful substances like carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide which, if inhaled, are harmful for the body. High concentration of carbon monoxide in blood hampers oxygen transport to various parts of the body. Consistent exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide are also harmful, especially in case of pregnant women as it can be fatal to the developing fetus. Further, the burning of any plant material results in the production of tar. A herbal cigarette is not an exception to this. Tar stains the inner lining of lungs and burns the cilia (tiny hairlike structures on lung cells) causing bronchitis. Tar has been known to be associated with oral cancers, discoloration of teeth and fingernails. Tobacco-free smoking has been shown to promote teen smoking and increase the incidence of smoking among women. The hazards of passive smoking are valid in case of such cigarettes as well.
Regular or tobacco-free, smoking poses a huge risk for the health of the smoker as well as the people around. The effects might not be apparent immediately, but in the long run it definitely takes a toll on your health. Smoking herbal cigarettes may be a better alternative over regular cigarettes, but giving up smoking is the best alternative. Why burn money and health? Let us opt to safeguard our health as well the health of our loved ones by avoiding the habit of smoking.