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Fighting Tobacco Beetles

Buying a box of cigars might result in finding a few tobacco beetles in the mix. Although measures are taken to prevent the tobacco beetles from moving into the cigars, the insects have been found in cigar boxes. Understanding where the tobacco beetles come from and ways to identify when they have attacked a cigar will make it easier to select the right cigars and avoid having the beetles appear at home.

Origins of the Beetle

The tobacco beetle is an insect that infects tobacco leaves before the plant is used in the creation of cigars. The beetles are common in countries where cigars are produced, particularly in the Caribbean Islands. The hot and humid climate allows the beetles to continue reproducing, and newer beetles have evolved so that basic pest-control measures are not effective.

Measures to Fight Infestations

Because the insects often infest the tobacco plant, measures are taken to eliminate the insect before tobacco is processed and used in cigars.

While the common measure of killing the infestation with pest control chemicals is sometimes used, it is not the most effective solution. The beetles have adapted to the chemical treatments and many are not killed when the plants are sprayed.

Because of the ineffective measures of pest control treatments, the tobacco importers began freezing the plants. Shock-freezing at low temperatures was thought to kill the moths and prevent the life cycle from continuing. Unfortunately, temperatures of minus 20 to minus 22 degrees centigrade were not cold enough to have the expected result. The best results from shock-freezing occur when the tobacco is frozen at 28 degrees below zero. Anything warmer will allow the eggs and larvae to survive, so a colder temperature is required.

Downside of Freezing

Although freezing seemed effective at first, experiments and observation showed that it was not enough to completely rid the cigars and tobacco of the insect. When cigars are frozen, the moths are killed. That provides the feeling that the cigars are safe and will not have problems. Unfortunately, the shock-freezing method was not effective.

In many cases, the larvae and eggs survived the freezing process. When the eggs hatched, the larvae ate through the cigars and showed that freezing was not helping. This was particularly evident when the cigars were thicker because the tobacco provided insulation and the cigars were more likely to have an infestation of eggs and larvae.

When the cigars began to warm up, the eggs would hatch and the larvae would eat the tobacco. The cigars become ruined when larvae eat through the tobacco and it is not possible to smoke the cigar.

The cigars are shipped after freezing and then sold to consumers. When customers open the box of cigars, the beetles are found in the box and the cigars are damaged.

Real Solution

After experimentation, it was discovered that microwaving the cigars can provide a real solution to the problem of tobacco beetles. The gamma rays from the microwave kill the larvae and eggs so that the beetles will not eat through the tobacco.

While the initial testing showed that the microwave kills the beetles, the problem that then arose was drying out. Even at a low wattage of 350 and a limited amount of time, three minutes, the tobacco leaves become dry.

Further experimentation showed that immediately freezing the cigars after microwaving them and then thawing them at room temperature would restore the moisture to the tobacco. The real solution to the beetle problem is a microwave combined with freezing and slow thawing. To prevent severe drying out of the tobacco, it is best to microwave a box of cigars rather than a single cigar. That keeps the tobacco from becoming too dry to enjoy.

Fighting the tobacco beetles requires a careful process of microwaving and freezing the cigars. When the microwave is used, the insects are not able to withstand the gamma rays and they ultimately die. As more research and experimentation is completed, it is likely that the beetles will become less of a problem for cigar customers. The key is finding the right way to fight the insects and kill the eggs so that the cigars are not damaged from the shock-freezing processes after they are thawed out.