Caused by the diverse conditions in the different tobacco growing regions, tobacco leaves differ in size, thickness, colour, and flavour. Factors like the environment, the leaf’s position on the stalk, harvesting, drying, handling and processing, all have an effect on the quality of the leaf and finally the smoking product. The sugar and nicotine proportions of the leaf charge to the overall aroma and flavour of the tobacco leaf. The quality of the leaf is identified by its colour, structure, size, strength, flavour, aroma, rate of burn and processing qualities. Quality is indicated in grades. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) identifies 117 official tobacco grades.
There are actually generally four types of tobacco: Virginia, American blend, dark and oriental cigarettes. The latter two, dark and oriental have lost ground to the first two. Virginia cigarettes are made practically totally from flue-cured Virginia tobaccos. They are well-known in the UK and in its former colonies. The American blend is presently the most popular type of cigarettes. Its world market share remains growing. The key tobacco ingredients of the American blend are flue-cured Virginia (around 50%), Burley and Oriental (about 12%). Furthermore, each cigarette brand needs a specific blend of tobaccos (and other components) to offer it its featured taste and to distinguish from its opponents.
Virginia flue-cured is therefore the key base of cigarette tobacco nowadays. Its share in overall unmanufactured tobacco has raised due to the use of Virginia and American Blend cigarettes. Originally from the (US) state of Virginia, currently it is harvested in many countries. US leaf is regarded to be the ideal component for providing quality, flavour and aroma to cigarettes but it is high-priced. Its high price (compared to non-US tobaccos) was once warranted by its excellent quality, but the quality of leaf from other countries has increased. Therefore it is no longer as important as it was for companies of quality cigarettes to use a high ratio of US tobaccos in their mix. However, demand for US tobaccos is still significant. Producers are unwilling to change the blend of tobaccos for fear of modifying the taste and losing true customers. For existing brands, modifications in the sources of supply will appear progressively (offering a degree of stability to the world tobacco trade). A more quick method of reducing the use of costly leaf is by including less of it in new brands or new versions of the general brand (e.g. in light cigarettes).