Where Does Nicotine Come From?

Nicotine molecule.png

If you’ve ever read the warning label on a pack of cigarettes you may ask yourself, “Where does nicotine come from?” This is a good question to ask, especially since it is reported to cause mouth and other cancer as well as a host of other health issues.

You can find nicotine in many places. Nicotine, the addictive psychotropic toxin found in cigarettes, cigars, snuff, chewing tobacco, and in nicotine replacement products such as nicotine gum is processed from the tobacco plant. It may be surprising to know that along with nicotine occurring in high concentrations the tobacco plant, it is also found in eggplant, tomato, potato and pepper plants, although in much lower concentrations. Nicotine is one of the alkaloids found in these plants which all happen to part of the nightshade family. Some sensitive people may find they get stomach upset and heartburn when they eat these foods possibly due to the alkaloid content.

While historically many growers were located in the United States, in the second part of the last century countries such as China, Brazil, India, Argentina, Indonesia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe have also grown tobacco. Many of these countries use cheap child labor to sustain their farms, exposing these children to “green tobacco sickness,” a form of nicotine poisoning. This is caused by the handling of wet tobacco leaves. As the nicotine absorbs through the skin it causes the farmers to be poisoned at a rate equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes. A person suffering from green tobacco sickness can suffer dizziness, vomiting and nausea and in children it can permanently alter brain function.

Many countries are processing tobacco to get nicotine in its refined form for use in pharmaceutical products and the new e-cigarettes. The workers who process the nicotine must wear chemical barrier safety equipment because refined nicotine is a deadly poison able to kill an adult if enough of the toxin contacts the skin. For this and other reasons countries like the United States are looking into stricter controls of products that contain refined nicotine, such as e-cigarette cartridges.

References:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tobacco
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicotine

Photo: QuteMol, Wikimedia. No endorsement implied. For licensing information visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en.


 
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