tocacco plant Native American Tobaccoo flower, leaves, and buds

tocacco Tobacco is an annual or bi-annual growing 1-3 meters tall with large sticky leaves that contain nicotine. Native to the Americas, tobacco has a long history of use as a shamanic inebriant and stimulant. It is extremely popular and well-known for its addictive potential.

tocacco nicotina Nicotiana tabacum

tocacco Nicotiana rustica leaves. Nicotiana rustica leaves have a nicotine content as high as 9%, whereas Nicotiana tabacum (common tobacco) leaves contain about 1 to 3%

tocacco cigar A cigar is a tightly rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco which is ignited so that its smoke may be drawn into the mouth. Cigar tobacco is grown in significant quantities in Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Sumatra, Philippines, and the Eastern United States.

tocacco Tobacco is an agricultural product processed from the fresh leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana. It can be consumed, used as an organic pesticide, and in the form of nicotine tartrate it is used in some medicines. In consumption it may be in the form of cigarettes smoking, snuffing, chewing, dipping tobacco, or snus.

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Indonesian Smoke Is Close but No Cigar

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar — unless the Food and Drug Administration and a congressional committee think it might be a cigarette.

The cigar (or cigarette) in question is called a kretek. Kreteks are cigarettes that blend tobacco and cloves. Billions are smoked in Indonesia, wreathing that country in the scent of studded oranges. A few weeks ago, though, clove cigarettes were banned in the U.S. on the grounds that their fragrance is a come-on to children.

It was the FDA’s first act under a law giving it the power to police tobacco. But as soon the clove-cigarette edict went out, a California kretek importer brought in a new line of clove cigars.

Djarum-brand cigars are the shape and size of cigarettes. They have filters. Their wrappers contain tobacco but could pass for brown paper. The puffery on the packs promises “a smoking experience you have come to expect.”

Getting wind of this, the FDA reminded the public that its ban applies to anything that fits a cigarette’s profile, even if it’s labeled as a “cigar.” And the House Committee on Energy and Commerce announced an investigation to find out whether the “flavored cigars are no different than flavored cigarettes.”

Immediately, Kretek International Inc., the closely held importer in Moorpark, Calif., sued the FDA, accusing it of “deliberately obfuscating” the “definition of cigarette.”

“If a product is a cigar, it is not a cigarette and vice versa,” says its complaint. “Kretek contends that Djarum cigars are cigars.”

The company has asked the U.S. District Court in Washington for a declaratory cigar-is-a-cigar judgment. The FDA declines comment and has yet to file a response. Without legal guidance, meanwhile, America’s clove-conscious now have to judge for themselves whether Djarum’s new cigars, deep down, are concealing an alter ego.

At the Indonesian restaurant he owns here in Alexandria, Sonny Setiantoko passed one under his nose. “That smell!” he said.

On a quiet Monday night, he sat at a rear table after a spicy meal of satay and coconut rice. Born in Java, he smoked his first kretek at the age of 14. Coming to the U.S. in 1994, at 24, he switched to Camels, then soon quit smoking. Now he was lighting up a Djarum “Splash.”

“Hear that crackle?” said Mr. Setiantoko. “That’s why we call them kretek. It’s the sound.” He took a drag and inhaled. “This is really authentic,” he said. “Makes me think of my childhood, going fishing. I feel like I’m not in America. Crazy, huh?” Mr. Setiantoko studied the object between his fingers and said, “This is a cigar?”

Cloves are dried buds from trees in the Molucccas, once called the Spice Islands, in eastern Indonesia. Columbus was after cloves when he bumped into America and was given some tobacco by people he met there. Nobody combined the two until a Javanese man rolled a clove cigarette in the 1880s, hoping it would ease his asthma.

It didn’t, but the mixture was a hit anyway. A century later, Indonesia had millions of kretek smokers. About 30 years ago, the industry began to export. In the U.S., kreteks went over big with sullen adolescents. Sales rose past $100 million, roughly in tandem with nose rings and black hair dye.

As tobacco bills moved through Congress, early drafts made no mention of cloves. But in 2006, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. brought out some new brands — “Winter Mocha-Mint,” “Kauai Kolada” — that looked kid-friendly. Outrage ensued, and Reynolds withdrew them. A ban on flavors, from licorice to grape, stayed in the final bill.

Cloves made the list, too. With Reynolds out of the game, they were the only big flavor left — except for the 90 billion menthol cigarettes Americans buy in a year. But a menthol ban, congressional aides and tobacco activists say now, would have ignited a huge bootlegging crisis. So the law exempts menthol. That leaves clove heads facing kretek cold turkey on their own.

They number 1.2 million, by Kretek International’s calculation, averaging five smokes a week. It comes to less than a tenth of 1% of U.S. cigarette consumption. For high-schoolers, kreteks are one of those “short-term fads that have not caught on with mainstream American youth,” according to a 2006 University of Minnesota survey that traced a 40% drop in 12th-grade clove smokers since 2001.

Apart from Indonesian expatriates and Americans who travel abroad, the kretek market is fleshed out by aging body-piercers and the occasional neophyte like Connie Faye Richardson.

Ms. Richardson, who lives in Grandbury, Texas, sent Kretek International a pained email on the ban’s eve: “I bought all they had in the store today,” she wrote. Reached by phone, she was reluctant to see her name in print. “My mom would have a fit about me smoking,” she said. “She’s a great mom, but she’s stern.”

Then Ms. Richardson said: “I’m 61 years old, so I can choose to tell my mother or not — and I want a clove so bad I can’t stand it!”

She began smoking five years ago — Virginia Slims. A niece told her about cloves, and she switched. Now her stash was almost gone. “Last night,” said Ms. Richardson, “I half-smoked one, and I put it out. I only have that half. What am I going to do?” Told of Kretek’s cigar, she said: “But a cigar’s not a cigarette, right?”

Possibly, but what else is there?

You could roll your own. There’s lots of clove-grinding advice on the Web already; one blogger expects hand-rolled kreteks to be “all the rage among hipsters.” You could buy direct from Indonesia: A recent Internet order arrived promptly, if illegally, identified for customs as a “booklet.” Or you could wait for Indonesia to file — and win — a threatened complaint to the World Trade Organization, claiming U.S. clove discrimination in favor of menthol.

Given the choices, Kretek International’s noncigarette may be the best bet. The company insists it can prove that its cigar is a cigar: The wrapper is homogenized leaf, the tobacco air-cured, and the finished product comes in boxes of 12, not 20. While a judge puts the subject through analysis, America’s clove aficionados will be holding their breath.

Matt Eden was on his roof deck in Washington not long ago, flipping open a fresh pack of Djarums. He is 24, spent a summer in Java, and has a job at the United States-Indonesia Society. It was sunset. At a mosque on his street, the call to prayer was sounding.

“This is the moment to have a kretek,” he said, lighting up. “There’s the crackle. And that smell!” He sat on a folding chair and blew a smoke plume. “I’m back in Indonesia,” said Mr. Eden. “This is a fine replacement for a cigarette. I really hope it’s a cigar.”


Write to Barry Newman at [email protected]

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1 comment to Indonesian Smoke Is Close but No Cigar

  • Mick

    I don’t even smoke regulary. I’m not a teenager, I thought smoking was dumb growing up because my parents actually fit the definition of parents. 1 Pack can last me over a year… with that being said, I like the Djarum splash clove kreteks.. after the ban someone got me a pack of these little clove cigars.. they are NOT THE SAME!! the taste and smell were not at all what I was looking and hoping for. I thought they tasted way worse. Quit letting the government parent our children and step up! This is ridiculous and the propaganda is chaffing my intellegence. Let’s just use our heads please.

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