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Guide: Switching to Organic Tobacco, Big Tobacco Sucks

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Make Your Own Cigarettes with organic Tobacco from LeafOnly
Empty MYO cigarette tube on shredded tobacco
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Are you a smoker? Do you ever feel as though the threat of incarceration is the only thing keeping you from being murdered by non-smokers when you light up in public? Well, that kind of stole the breath out of what I was doing, huh? We’re all familiar with those crazy antidepressant commercials, and it seemed fitting enough to start this out in the same vein since cigarettes are a natural antidepressant, but again, long-winded is… long.

You can’t do anything about the anti-smoking crowd, unfortunately, but you can make a smarter decision for yourself. Not only for your health, but your wallet too.

I’ve been smoking for two and a half decades (and I have photos to prove 21 years of that, and family for the other four). It’s not something I’m proud of but I’m not ashamed of it either. I smoke because I enjoy smoking. I’ve quit before and it never lasts. It’s not the nicotine addiction that gets me, it’s the act of smoking. Only a smoker can actually do something when doing absolutely nothing. I can’t be too still.

When I first started, a pack of Marlboro Gold 100s (my preferred brand) cost $2.04 after tax. $1.99 plus five cents tax; it was awesome. That same pack of cigs today, if they still made them, would be around $6 at most stores, plus tax. I’ve never even seen a silver spoon so the increasing costs of being a smoker has been universally bad for me, but there is a better way.

I Haven’t Bought a Pack of Cigarettes in 3 Months

I still smoke, and I smoke well, but I don’t buy cigarettes anymore.

I read an article on SOTT.net (Sign of the Times) this summer about all of the many, many chemicals added to commercial cigarettes by manufacturers, and about the benefits of switching to organic tobacco. According to the CDC, the lifespan of a smoker is around 10 years less than that of a non-smoker, and yet people have been smoking for hundreds of years. That was a thought I had while reading up on it, and that first article led me to countless others.

In the end, I wound up at a site called LeafOnly.com placing my first order. For the last three months, my wife and I have smoked nothing but organic tobacco. Now, this isn’t the same thing as certified organic tobacco, which has even more stringent restrictions on the pesticides used during harvesting, but they offer that stuff too.

What we smoke is just their run-of-the-mill organic tobacco, and it comes with a fraction of the toxins used in commercial cigarettes.

The Biggest Drawback of Smoking is the Cost

We can argue all day about the health issues of smoking, and I will probably make my stance on the matter VERY clear on GR someday soon, but not today. Believe me, you should be thanking me for that. I can rant about the second-smoke bullshit until my lips fall off. Anyway. The biggest drawback of smoking is the cost to the average smoker. Health matters, and people are quick to spit out the right answer, according to other people (usually asshole non-smokers), but cost is the big issue.

My wife and I have smoked Pall Mall Red 100s for several years, due to the cost of cigarettes. They offer a fairly premium flavor for a generic price. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, that matters. I smoked about a pack and a half to two packs a day, while my wife was just over a pack a day. I do smoke more than her, but those numbers are so far off because my work allows me to smoke all day and hers does not.

In any given month, we were spending a minimum of $300 on cigarettes, but because my wife was starting to edge up over a pack a day, it was more like $365 a month. That’s insane.

Since making the switch to organic, MYO (Make Your Own) cigarettes, we’re spending under $200 a month for both of us, and neither of us has gone without even a single cigarette in the name of saving money.

If I’m being fully transparent (about this, always), I call it under $200 a month because I don’t know for sure how much we’re spending, not exactly. I haven’t spent more than $211 on a single order, but the orders include fees for expedited processing, and shipping, and each order includes at least something more than what we actually need, like equipment or samples of something new.

How It Works

If you’re anything like me then you probably read this and other stuff like it wondering how it really works. The people who do it aren’t always the best at giving details, and sometimes we just don’t think to ask. So I want to give you a little breakdown of how it works.

First thing’s first…

MYO is NOT Roll Your Own

I was a kid the first time I heard about roll-your-own cigarettes. I didn’t care back then, of course, but as I got older and saw what was involved, it was a lot of damn work. And provided inconsistent results, at best.

MYO stands for Make Your Own, and there’s a reason that it’s different from RYO; you don’t roll shit. MYO cigarettes are made by injecting tobacco into pre-made cigarette tubes. The tubes come in a box, usually 200 to a box (or one carton), and are complete. The papers are attached to the filters and ready to go (see the picture of an empty tube on a bed of shredded tobacco at the top of this post). Very simple.

Injectors vary quite a bit, but the Powermatic brand seems to be the most popular, and for good reason. I own two Powermatic injectors, one is the Series I injector and the other is the mini-injector. Both work outstanding. I prefer the Series I because I tend to make all of our cigarettes, and the Series I holds more tobacco on the tray than the mini-injector does, but they both provide a consistent product and are easy to use.

The biggest difference between the two is the price. The Series I cost me about $60, bought from LeafOnly on my first order. The mini-injector cost me $20 from LeafOnly and $17 from Amazon; same product, just different colors. The mini-injector is easier for first-timers, as the Series I allows for over-stuffing the chamber, resulting in a jam, much easier.

I also have a Top brand handheld injector that I hate. I haven’t used it yet, and probably won’t either. It just looks like it’ll make a mess. My wife’s sister used one years ago and she remembers it working well, but we haven’t used it. It was $5.

LeafOnly Sells Tobacco Leaves (Wait for it) Only

They sell tobacco leaves by the pound and you can get different breeds, like Canadian or American, even Turkish Oriental. You get a bag full of leaves, with stems and all.

Since you can’t really smoke a foot-long leaf, my first order also contained a shredder. It’s nothing fancy, certainly not what I want after using it for a while, but it gets the job done. The shredder lists for $40 on LeafOnly’s website, but I found it for $30 on Amazon.

So What’s the Process of Making Your Own Cigarettes?

What we do is set up at the dining table. The shredder clamps to the edge of the table, and we have a cheap folding TV tray from Walmart that we peel on. We take the leaves and peel them off of the stems, leaving most of the veins in place unless they’re super thick, because the shredder can’t handle the stems. I place a fairly large tupperware container under the shredder to catch the shreds and start feeding peeled leaves into it.

There are different mixes you can use, mostly to control flavor and strength, so we have several containers. My wife’s preferred blend is about 80% American and 20% Canadian. American is stronger tobacco and Canadian is a bit weaker. I tend to smoke straight American.

On top of those, our bulk purchases, I also like to get 1/4-pound samples of other tobaccos to try out. I’ve tried the Aged Burley, which is very robust, a.k.a. strong and harsh. I’ve tried the Turkish leaves as well, which is a spice tobacco intended only for flavor.

There are also different years of American tobacco to choose from. In the beginning, I ordered one of their tobacco kits after talking with an employee (Jason) about our usual tastes. I took their recommendation and was very pleased. We got the American Combo Kit, which is 80/20 2012 American/Canadian. They also have 2013 American and 2016 American, plus the Certified Organic American.

The thing is that no matter which tobacco you buy from LeafOnly, they all seem to be Virginia Flue Cured. Much like a good scotch is an old scotch, aged to perfection, tobacco must be aged too, apparently. I don’t know why that is yet, but it’s not that important. What is important to know is that the 2012 American leaves have been cured longer than the rest, and curing dries the leaves out.

My first order was pretty good, but subsequent orders of that same kit came drier and drier until I eventually (my last order) switched to 2013 American. Dry tobacco leaves turn to dust when you shred them. Dust does not inject well, though it smokes just fine. You can re-hydrate the leaves but that’s a lot of work so we don’t do it. At least on the American leaves, the older it is, the more robust it is. I like a full flavor cigarette so robust is important to me.

Remember, in terms of tobacco leaves, robust means strength of flavor. The 2013 American is plenty robust enough for a heavy, full flavor smoker like myself.

Another tobacco I’ve ordered multiple samples of is the Brightleaf, both sweet and smooth. I’ve been mixing them with my American shreds for about an 80/20 mix of American/Other. That’s working nicely.

I’ve also tried the 2016 American and the Certified Organic American. The 2016 is even easier to work with than the 2013, but the 2013 suits my needs just fine. The Certified Organic American also works well, but is a much stronger tobacco than I expected. I can’t smoke one of them at night, after a full day of a smoking. It makes me cough and wheeze too much.

Anyway, I set up at my desk with the tubes, a small container to place made cigs into, a container with shreds, and the injector. We are setup to watch Netflix with me at my computer and a 40″ LCD on the wall for my wife, and we like to watch shows. Currently, it’s Haven. It was Grimm before that, Sons of Anarchy, Suits; you name it, really. We watch and I make cigs. I can clear about two and a half packs during a commercial-free episode. I don’t smoke while making cigs either, and have gone as long as three hours (about four days ago) straight.

Once you make the cigarettes, you still have to pack them. My wife and I packed cigs religiously when smoking commercial brands, but it’s not always needed then. It is needed with these.

You can pack them one at a time, like we used to, and spend a good amount of time doing that. I would make them, she would pack them.

But I figured there had to be a better way so I went looking for it. I found a case of 12 plastic cigarette packs on Amazon for about $24. I guess you’re supposed to insert whole commercial packs inside it, but we just stick the cigs in bare. It holds 20 cigs, even though the Zen brand of tubes we use are thicker than regular smokes (not as thick as Camel Wides), and they’re holding up quite well as tools for packing.

We load up a pack with 20 cigs, sometimes a few less too, then pack them like we would regular packs of commercial cigarettes. Shake out the loose tobacco afterward, into a container for the next injecting session, and you’re good to go.

I strongly recommend getting some plastic packs to work with.

Packing cigs individually can be time-consuming and makes a bigger mess (tobacco flies out of the end, see below). At $24 for a 12-pack of cases, I paid $2 each. I’ve already gotten more than a dozen uses out of the three I use, and my wife — who packs longer than I do thanks to her OCD — has the same. The packs haven’t broken yet. Easily worth the money by the time one does finally break.

One thing I suggest is that you find an old bank or credit card and keep it with your injecting supplies. It works great for gathering up loose tobacco on your table into a container (or just your hand) to inject. You’ll understand the loose tobacco bit the first time you try it. It’s not much, and a little sense keeps you from wasting anything.

There are a Variety of Tubes to Choose From

I went with the Zen full flavor 100 tubes on my first order, not because I thought I’d like them any better, but because they come with 250 tubes per box for the same price as all the other brands, at 200 per box. Man, what a good decision that was. Not only do we save a bit of money on supplies, but we both really like these tubes.

I’ve tried Zen’s full flavor menthol 100 tubes, full flavor Kings, Premium’s full flavor 100s, and now Gambler’s light (gold) 100 tubes as well.

The tube is mostly responsible for the flavor and burn. Premium tubes burn a tad faster than Zen and seem be a bit harsher too. The light Gambler tubes weren’t bad at all, even for a full flavor smoker like myself. There are a lot of brands of tubes, both at LeafOnly.com and our local cigarette shops (Chaney’s), so you just have to try them out and see what you like best.

What Does Everything Cost?

It varies, but at LeafOnly, the tubes are about $4 a box. Menthol tubes are a tad higher.

Most of the tobacco is around $16 per pound right now, but was $19 per pound when I started. It’s an agricultural industry so prices will vary by season and year. The Certified Organic pricing is about $21 per pound.

The kits I mentioned before are your best deal to start with. The 80/20 American/Canadian kit is $30 and comes with two pounds of tobacco (1.6 lbs American, .4 lbs Canadian). You can also get samples that are .25 lbs each. That’s a nice way to try new breeds and to get your order exactly right.

LeafOnly is based in Connecticut and appears to be just a cigarette shop, one with a specific niche. I usually get the same two people when I have questions or issues with an order, so not many employees on the front end of things. I pay $10 on every order for one-day order processing, and the shipping is usually just UPS ground for around $20 to $25. They have faster shipping, with both UPS and USPS available, but no shipping under $20.

But What Does That Mean, Exactly?

Good question, and one most people seem reluctant to answer.

Injecting cigarettes isn’t an exact science. Different people inject different amounts of tobacco into each cigarette. I feel like I’ve gotten very good at it and can get a nice, full cigarette on every go, and smoking 100s means you have to make sure the corners (ends) are stuffed well to really fill the tube.

That said, my wife and I smoke about a pound a week, combined. Keeping in mind what I told you before about how much we smoked when we smoked Pall Malls, she’s under a pack a day now and I’m under a pack and a half a day. Mine fluctuates a bit between a pack and a pack and a half, but usually ends up being about 22-25 a day.

On the LeafOnly website, they say that a pound of tobacco generally makes between one and one and a half cartons of cigarettes, but each person will get different results. I’ve found that a pound of tobacco gets over a carton of 100s with some consistency.

Is Going Organic Right for You?

I always thought of smoking organic as a rather lofty notion, but not all that practical. Turns out, I was wrong.

Sure, my wife and I spend a few hours a week peeling and shredding tobacco, but as much as I always dread it ahead of time, I really enjoy that unusually quiet time for just me and her. We talk, joke around, and keep a Spotify playlist going with my phone and bluetooth speaker. I dread it, but love it at the same time.

Injecting cigarettes is such a smooth process, I can even watch episodes of The Americans and Narcos, which both have a lot of subtitles, while injecting. It takes time, but a little planning and you won’t miss the time it takes.

As for the benefits of smoking organic, it’s more a peace of mind thing for me. I’m sure my body is healthier without all the added chemicals used by Big Tobacco, but it’s not something I fully notice. For me, the biggest thing was cutting down on how many I smoke each day. It happened naturally. If I tried to smoke two packs of MYO cigs in a day, I’d be sick. I believe the nicotine content is higher, or it’s just an effect of no fillers being used, like in commercial cigarettes.

More than that, these things last longer. I can finish a Pall Mall Red 100 in about 7-9 minutes, on average. One of my MYO cigarettes takes at least 13 minutes to smoke, and I’ve had some last as long as 19 minutes. The average is around 15 minutes.

I haven’t sacrificed strength, flavor, or quality in any way since making the switch, I’ve only gained.

If you prefer Kings to 100s, I’m sorry. The injectors are made to work with 100s and Kings, and since it fills 100s, the Kings get overfilled. I don’t like making them, but that’s just because I have to cut off the excess and it drops more loose tobacco on my work space. No way around it that I’ve found. Kings are useful when 100s take so long to smoke, my wife can actually smoke a whole one on her breaks at work.

The smell doesn’t really change, but if anything, it’s stronger with these. My wife snubbed one out midway at work and put it in her purse, which went into her locker. She could smell that cigarette the next time she went to her locker, just walking into the room. The rest of it seems about the same as commercial brands.

It still trips me out to drop $200 once a month on cigs, but it’s better than $150 every two weeks. That alone is reason enough to make the switch.

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