In Thrace a variety of ‘oriental tobacco’ known as basma was cultivated. The steady rise in tobacco use and the expansion of the tobacco market led to the creation of a separate professional group in the period of Ottoman rule, the guild of tobacco-merchants (toutoundzides). Xanthi, which produced the ‘king of tobaccos’, became the home of the 3 largest tobacco companies in Greece. The state of the world tobacco market, coupled with events in local history (wars, enemy occupation, and an influx of refugees), meant that the tobacco economy went through periods of growth, decline, and stability; but it was also the cause of a profound social crisis, when a dispute between tobacco merchants and tobacco workers developed into a class struggle.
Sowing in the nurseries begins on 15 March, and in late May or early June the tobacco growers start planting out. Two months later, harvesting begins, starting with the bottom leaves, which mature first. The leaves are taken home in baskets, and then strung in bunches using large needles. The bunches are hung up on drying frames (xirandiria) for 8-15 days to dry out. Then the leaves are placed neatly one on top of the other and arranged in very orderly fashion in the kapakia to be flattened. Lastly, the tobacco leaves are packed in a wooden structure known as the sendouki, where they are maintained in good condition until the time comes for them to be assessed, sold, and transported to the warehouses.
The tobacco in the warehouses
The pack is opened up on wooden frames with a wire or hessian base to air and humidify the tobacco. The leaves are then graded for size and quality, and placed accordingly in small wooden boxes. They are then tied in bundles (toges) on a special wooden structure, and when they are to be sold the toges are placed in a wooden press with spindles.
Tobacco has been used in many ways, from simply chewing the leaves to the modern cigarette. After 1860, tobacco was cut by hand with a havani, a kind of wooden tool with a knife attached, and used for hand-rolled cigarettes. Later on, only the state-run tobacco-cutting factories were allowed to supply cut tobacco, so that it could be controlled and taxed. The cutting of tobacco with the havani was banned in 1926. The first cigarette-making machine came to Greece in 1895.