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Nicotine and its role in tobacco harm reduction research

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One of the biggest health problems worldwide is smoking. According to WHO data, over 8 million people die annually from smoking-related diseases, 1.2 million of whom are passive smokers.

These problems are largely due to the harmful and potentially harmful substances (HPVs) emitted in cigarette smoke when conventional cigarettes are burned.

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that is not without risk, but it is wrongly blamed for most smoking-related diseases such as cardiovascular, oncological and lung diseases.

The best choice for smokers would be to completely give up the use of products containing tobacco and/or nicotine. For non-smokers, it is best to never start smoking.

The main problem is combustion

When a cigarette is lit, the tobacco starts to burn and reaches temperatures of over 600°C. During this combustion, the substances contained in it undergo a process of thermal destruction called pyrolysis, in which cigarette smoke and ash are formed.

Cigarette smoke contains over 7,000 harmful and potentially harmful substances (HPHC) such as tars and others, some of which are proven carcinogens – benzene, formaldehyde, tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) and others.

The facts about nicotine

Not surprisingly, there are many misconceptions about nicotine. What do we really know about nicotine and how much of this information is accurate?

Nicotine is actually a chemical that is produced naturally in various plants.

Specifically: the Solanaceae family, commonly known as nightshades. This family includes tomatoes (~332 ng average nicotine content), potatoes (~675 ng) and aubergines/aubergines (~525 ng). To put this into perspective, a conventional cigarette contains ~12 mg of nicotine – about 18 thousand times more nicotine than a single potato, measured by mass. But only a small fraction (<2 mg) of this nicotine is transferred into the smoke of a single cigarette.

What does this mean? Nicotine is present in our food diet in small doses. Research even shows that people take in an average of about 1400 ng of nicotine each day in ordinary food. But that doesn’t explain why tobacco and other plants contain nicotine in the first place.

Nicotine is created in the roots of the plant when two chemical compounds – pyridine and pyrrolidine – combine before moving to the leaves. The genes behind this combination exist in all plants, but genetic duplications in the nightshade family (family Solanaceae) are thought to have led to the production of nicotine.

Nicotiana tabacum, the type of nicotine found in tobacco plants, is taken up by receptors in the brain when using nicotine products, stimulating the release of dopamine, defined as one of the “hormones of happiness”, which in turn leads to addiction.

Reducing the harm of smoking

Based on the knowledge that nicotine is addictive but not the main cause of smoking-related diseases, scientists are asking whether there is a way to reduce the harm of using tobacco products by eliminating burning and cigarette smoke.

Thus began the development of products with nicotine, but without combustion, aimed at reducing the harm to adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke.

Such products are snus (oral tobacco widely distributed in Sweden), nicotine gums and patches, as well as tobacco heating devices and e-cigarettes with nicotine liquid. In all of them, the burning of tobacco is eliminated, which also eliminates cigarette smoke.

These are technologies that heat real tobacco, but to a controlled temperature, lower than the burning of a conventional cigarette. When tobacco is heated, an aerosol is released that contains nicotine, and the amount of VPPs released is reduced to 95%.

These are technologies that heat real tobacco, but to a controlled temperature, lower than the burning of a conventional cigarette. When tobacco is heated, an aerosol is released that contains nicotine, and the amount of VPPs released is reduced to 95%.

It is important to note that smokeless products are not risk-free products and are intended only for adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke.

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