Tobacco Products Industry Workers


Exploring this Job

Part-time or seasonal tobacco processing jobs may be available for people who are interested in this field. Some plants where tobacco products are manufactured may allow visitors to observe their operations.

The Job

Various kinds of tobacco plants are cultivated for use in tobacco products. After harvesting, the different types of tobacco are processed in different ways. Using one method or another, all tobacco is cured, or dried, for several days to a month or more in order to change its physical and chemical characteristics. Farmers sometimes air-cure tobacco by hanging it in barns to dry naturally. Other curing methods are fire-curing in barns with open fires and flue-curing in barns with flues that circulate heat. Some tobacco is sun-cured by drying it outdoors in the sun.

Cured tobacco is auctioned to tobacco product manufacturers or other dealers. The first step in the manufacturing process is separating out stems, midribs of leaves, and foreign matter. Usually this is done by workers who feed the tobacco into machines. Once stemmed, the tobacco is dried again by redrying-machine operators, who use machines with hot-air blowers and fans.

The tobacco is then packed for aging. In preparation for packing, workers may adjust the moisture content of the dry tobacco by steaming the leaves or wetting them down with water. The tobacco is prized, or packed, into large barrels or cases that can hold about a thousand pounds of tobacco each. Workers, including bulkers, prizers, and hydraulic-press operators, pack the containers, which go to warehouses to be aged. The aging process, which may take up to two years, alters the aroma and flavor of the tobacco. After it is aged, workers take the tobacco to factories, where it is removed from the containers.

The tobacco is further conditioned by adding moisture. Blenders then select tobacco of various grades and kinds to produce blends with specific characteristics or for specific products, such as cigars or snuff. They place the tobacco on conveyors headed for processing. Blending laborers replenish supplies of the different tobaccos for the blending line. Blending-line attendants tend the conveyors and machines that mix the specified blends.

Some tobacco is flavored using casing fluids, which are water-soluble mixtures. Casing-material weighers, casing-machine operators, wringer operators, casing cookers, and casing-fluid tenders participate in this flavoring process by preparing the casing material, saturating the tobacco with it, and removing excess fluid before further processing.

The tobacco is ready to be cut into pieces of the correct size. Tobacco for cigars and cigarettes is shredded and cleaned in machines operated by machine filler shredders and strip-cutting-machine operators. Snuff grinders and snuff screeners tend machines that pulverize chopped tobacco into snuff and sift it through screens to remove oversized particles. Riddler operators tend screening devices that separate coarse pieces of tobacco from cut tobacco.

Once cut, the tobacco is made into salable products. Cigarettes are made by machines that wrap shredded tobacco and filters with papers. Workers feed these machines, make the filters, and run the machines, which also print the company's name and insignia on the rolling papers.

Cigar making is similar, except that the filler tobacco is wrapped in tobacco leaf instead of paper. The filler is held together and formed into a bunch in a binder leaf, and the bunch is rolled in a spiral in a wrapper leaf. Various workers sort and count appropriate wrapper leaves and binder leaves. They roll filler tobacco and binder leaves into bunches by hand or using machines. The bunches are pressed into cigar-shaped molds, and bunch trimmers trim excess tobacco from the molds before the bunches are wrapped.

Other workers operate machines that automatically form and wrap cigars. They include auto rollers and wrapper layers, who wrap bunches with sheet tobacco or wrapper leaves. Some workers wrap bunches by hand. Cigar-head piercers use machines to pierce draft holes in the cigar ends. Some cigars are pressed into a square shape by tray fillers and press-machine feeders before they are packaged in cigar bands and cellophane. Patch workers repair defective or damaged cigars by patching holes with pieces of wrapper leaf.

Some tobacco is made into other products, such as plugs, lumps, and twists. These products are chewed instead of smoked. Twists and some plugs may be made by hand, while most plugs and lumps are made by machine. The machines slice, mold, press, and wrap the tobacco, and various workers are responsible for feeding, regulating, and cleaning the machines.

Many workers are employed in packaging the manufactured tobacco products. Cigar packers, hand banders, machine banders, and cellophaners package cigars. Cigar banders stamp trademarks on cigar wrappers. Cigarette-packing-machine operators pack cigarette packs into cartons. Case packers and sealers pack the cartons into cases and seal them. Other workers pack snuff, chewing tobacco, and other products into cartons, tins, and other packaging. Snuff-box finishers glue covers and labels on boxes of snuff.

Finally, tobacco inspectors check that the products and their packaging meet quality standards, removing items that are defective. The industry also employs a variety of workers to maintain equipment; load, unload, and distribute materials; prepare tobacco for the different stages of processing; salvage defective items for reclamation; and maintain records of tobacco bought and sold.