Bee smoker and cigarettes
Bee Smoker and Natural American Spirit Cigarettes

I have never really seriously smoked cigarettes. There was a brief time in high school where I hung around with several foreign exchange students who all smoked. I would have a cigarette now and again and my cigarettes of choice were Marlboros, but the habit never stuck. I found the activity boring and awful tasting. There were times in college that would have a cigarette here or there – mostly while out having a drink with friends.

Cigarettes’ presentation, place in society as well as ingredients have varied widely over the years. Even between countries, packaging can vary. While at Iceland’s Reykjavik International Airport several years ago, I wandered into the duty-free shop. I was presented with a wall of northern European beers, and in the middle of the store, stacked neatly, were cartons of cigarettes. On the packaging were color photos of diseases and disorders linked to tobacco smoking. During the 1920s, in the United States, American Tobacco Company (now part of British American Tobacco) marketed their Lucky Strike brand as a way for women to stay healthy and thin (see The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America).

Recently, I was rereading Ross Conrad’s Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture, and I came across something that I had completely forgotten – a USDA study suggesting that smoke from grapefruit leaves, creosote bush or tobacco may have a negative affect on varroa mites but have minimally adverse affects on the bees. Grapefruit trees certainly do not grow outdoors in northern Minnesota, and creosote bushes are found in the desert southwest – again, not northern Minnesota-material.

Tobacco, on the other hand, is relatively ubiquitous. Although, it is not grown in northern Minnesota, or Minnesota in general in any commercially-sized operations, it is available in cigarette, pipe, cigar and smokeless forms. Ross Conrad specifically mentioned Natural American Spirit Cigarettes.

American Spirits are somewhat unique in that they are made from organic and sustainably grown tobacco, and just tobacco (not counting paper or filter). Aside from containing tobacco that may have been sprayed with pesticides, most other brands of cigarettes contain fun things like cocoa and carob powder, ammonium hydroxide, bergamot oil (think Earl Grey tea), geranium rose oil, glycerol, licorice extract, rose oil, high fructose corn syrup, and a hodgepodge of various butyls and methals – things that end in hexane like trimethylcyclohexane and many weak organic acids (as opposed to strong, inorganic acids like hydrochloric or sulfuric).

The idea behind the use of tobacco and its smoke to mitigate varroa mites is pretty simple – knock the varroa off the honeybee’s body. The second part of the equation is to prevent the mites from being able to get back onto a new host.

The tobacco smoke is supposed to do the knocking off part by causing the mites to lose their grip on the host bee through disorientation or some such thing. The exact chemical that causes the irritation to the mites is not known (and trying to find a source of information for what compounds are naturally found in natural tobacco is just a honey pot for quick ways to kick the habit).

The second part, keeping the mites from getting back on the bees, is done through the use of a screened bottom board. Basically the bottom of the hive is screened off. It has been found that varroa have difficulties evening finding the bees if more than several inches away from them. Plus, if used with a sticky board under the screen, the mites will most certainly not be able to get back up into the hive.

All that said, it is a bit of anecdotal experiment. I smirk slightly each time I purchase cigarettes. I guess I amuse easily. It is easier to just fumble at the tobacco shop while trying to say, in an-all-uncool-way, which Natural American Spirits I would like to purchase. I am quite certain that the clerk would be confused if I told him that I crumble up four cigarettes, sans-filter, along with a mixture of cherry and applewood chips in a steel bee-smoker in an attempt to dislodge the bee-equivalent of human-ticks from my colonies of honeybees.