cigarette pack Number of cigarettes from
a pouch of tobacco.
cigarette pack

Depends on the size of filter. These range from 5 mm in diameter to 8 mm - and the length can vary from 15 mm up to 25 mm, so using a small diameter filter means less tobacco is needed, while a large diameter filter means more tobacco. Same with the length of the filter, long filter means less tobacco, short more.

Rather than look at every variable, I'll stick to the filter sizes available at most supermarkets and tobacconists - same with the paper, which is 70mm in length. I use a roller because I do a batch of an evening that'll see me through the next day with ample headroom if required. This gives me a consistency I can't get using my fingers - and they look real good when laid out in a cigarette case. When pushed I can run up 20 cigarettes in about 35 minutes.

ultra slim and slim rollups compared to commercial cigarettes

Hand rolled cigarettes using ultra slim (2 on left 5.5 & 5.3 mm) and slim filters (2 in middle 6 & 6.5 mm) compared to commercial cigarettes.

The most popular sizes of filter are "ultra slim" (generally between 5 mm and 5.7 mm in diameter depending on manufacturer) and "slim" (6 mm to 6.5 mm). They're all 15 mm long. Very few supermarkets stock anything larger (described as "regular") or longer, leaving specialist tobacconists or Internet retailers to supply that segment the market, like this outfit that has a bewildering range of options (01).

British American Tobacco has provided a convenient reference. This is from the back of a pouch of Cutters Choice tobacco:

Cutters Choice label showing nicotine and tar ratings 20 gram pouch.

Cutters Choice 20 g pouch showing nicotine and tar ratings.

It says you'll need 0.4 g of tobacco to fill a stick when rolled at 5.2 mm and that'll produce 8 mg of tar and 0.7 mg of nicotine when using type A papers, or 11 mg tar and 1.0 mg nicotine if you use type B paper. When rolled at 7.2 mm it needs 0.75 g of tobacco and that results in a stronger taste that's 15 mg tar and 1.3 mg nicotine with A type paper, or 19 mg tar, 1.6 mg nicotine using type B.

This business of A and B type paper's quite simple. Most cigarette papers are type B and they're just your regular paper. Type A is more porous, so lets in more air when you inhale and that reduces the amount of tar and nicotine drawn through the cigarette. Rolling papers that are type A state that on the packaging, while type B has no markings on the dispenser. I use Rizla Blue and Zig Zag Blue papers because they're thin and mold better in the roller. People who hand roll seem to prefer slightly thicker papers.

It used to be that some states in the EU required information on the tar and nicotine content of rolling tobacco. In all cases manufacturers' figures are based on a 5.2 mm filter and B type paper. The figures are obtained using ISO standards (02) and these involve using a machine to do the "puffing" at set intervals, without any adjustment to the air being inhaled, which is what we all do. First puff is to get it going and I always include a fair amount of air with each drag on the cigarette, especially toward the end when the smoke can become too warm for my liking - and I always leave about 5 to 8 mm of tobacco when I stub it out. Machines measure everything, to the point where you'd burn your fingers! However, for the record, here's what I see on pouches I bought in the Netherlands. Amber Leaf - 12 mg tar, 1 mg nicotine. Samson - 12 mg tar, 1 mg nicotine. Drum Original - 12 mg tar, 0.9 mg nicotine. Golden Virginia Green - 12 mg tar, 0.8 mg nicotine.

All this stuff about paper types and tar and nicotine ratings is quite irrelevant because those of us who roll using very small diameter filters know the paper will wrap round the tab twice, so negating the properties of the paper and increasing the tar and nicotine content! It is possible to buy papers specific to ultra slim filters, or you can cut regular papers (which I do) to size.

For several weeks I recorded how many cigarettes I could roll from a 20 g pouch of tobacco using a roller - and these were my actual results compared the theoretical results stated by British American Tobacco on their pouch of Cutters Choice.

Number of cigarettes rolled from 20 gr pouch of tobacco.

L = 55mm
D = filter
Ideal weight
of tobacco
Theoretical no. of
tabs (20 g pouch)
Cutters Choice
Actual results
5.2 mm 1168 cu mm 0.40 gr 50 51+ 53*
6.0 mm 1555 cu mm 0.53 gr 38 38+ 43~ 45#
6.5 mm 1825 cu mm 0.62 gr 32 34++
7.2 mm 2240 cu mm 0.75 gr 27
8.0 mm 2765 cu mm 0.94 gr 21

+ Cutters Choice (no preparation), ++ Cutters (prepared) * Golden Virginia (not prepped), ~ Old Holborn (not prepped), # Samson (prepared).

It's easy to see the difference a filter diameter makes, also some brands of tobacco work better for me in a roller. Those without much moisture are easier to tease apart and are more resilient in the roller. Tobacco that's moist doesn't have the same "springiness", meaning more is needed to make a good cigarette.

I'm not fond of very small filters because really skinny cigarettes are very mild and a tiny filter soon gets crushed with my fingers and my puffing on them. I prefer 6.5 or 6.0 mm filters when using my milder tobaccos (Golden Virginia Yellow and Cutters Choice) and 5.7 mm or 5.5 mm filters with stronger blends (Samson and Amber Leaf).

Conversely what suits some people - and is a good way to cut costs - is to buy strong, tarry tobacco and roll that using a small filter. I found Pall Mall Red and a type of Van Nelle were far too strong for my liking, so those ended up being rolled using 5.0 mm filters. Those made the cigarettes far more palatable - and boy did both pouches seem to last for ages!

When I mention the tobacco is not prepared that means I just pulled a clump out the pouch, then loosened it a little before rolling it. This results in a very tight cigarette with compressed tobacco and it's a waste tobacco. Prepared tobacco is where I take out a bunch of it then separate the strands so it's nice and fluffy - and that results in a far more pleasant smoke with the advantage that the pouch goes further.

People who use rolling machines are in the minority; most people who roll their own cigarettes prefer to use their fingers. There's no standard for that because experienced rollers' will roll a ciggie for the occasion. For a nice smoke after a meal they'll roll a generous cigarette and if they're just taking a break from work they'll most likely roll a skinny one that'll be good for a few puffs. Surprisingly they'll be able to do this using the same size filter - and here's an example of one that I machine rolled, and the other is a typical tab produced by a friend who hand rolls. We both used ultra slim filters.

Hand rolled vs roller made cigarettes with ultra slim filters

Example of hand rolled and roller made cigarettes.
(Background is a rusty stool base).

His is on the left and it's packed to the end with tobacco - and he licks the area where the filter is to make sure there are no leaks. He uses Golden Virginia Green which is quite strong, so something that large - it takes ages to smoke - needs a good filter. He gets about 30 cigarettes from a 20 gr pouch

Frank Davis has compiled a page explaining and showing how to roll your own cigarettes using your fingers (03). Frank doesn't use a filter, yet most people don't like having bits of tobacco lining their lips and sticking to their tongues. One option is make a tip. That's just a piece of rolled up cardboard, so they get the full taste of their tobacco and don't waste any that's just above the tip. These can be bought - and this place has them (01). Otherwise just cut the flap off your book of papers, then cut that into three equals and bingo you'll have three filter tips for you to bend to size - and they can be re-used many times.

There's a misconception that using a roller compresses the tobacco to an unacceptable level. That was my experience when I first started, however I now have five years under my belt and can roll a nice soft cigarette without difficulty. It takes practice and was helped enormously when I discovered a roller that's adjustable to handle only slim or ultra slim filters with the twist of a lever. They look like this (04) and are available at most Pound Shops, or this place stocks one branded as Zen at a 50% price premium (05).

Rollers don't last indefinitely; the plastic belt stretches and that results in the open end of the cigarette being crushed down to a couple of mm. It's worst when the roller's cold, so it's always the first couple of cigarettes that come out looking squint. With me rollers last for between eight and twelve weeks at about 24 cigarettes a day. There's only one solution and that's to replace them. At a quid a pop I buy them by the half dozen.

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Smoking Scot
February 2017