Nicotine levels in smokeless tobacco products available in the U.S. in 2006 and 2007 were analyzed by scientists at RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co.  I previously discussed other analyses reported by the scientists, on tobacco-specific nitrosamine levels and trace metals.

Nicotine is tobacco’s primary attraction for humans; it provides many positive effects on human behavior.  It is widely known that nicotine can be consumed by inhaling the smoke of burning tobacco, or by using smokeless tobacco, with differences in the efficiency and rate of absorption.

When using smokeless tobacco, nicotine is absorbed across the lining of the mouth.  Many factors affect this, including the physical characteristics of the product (chewing tobacco, fine cut moist snuff, powdered snuff, pouch, etc.), and how it is held in or moved around the mouth.  An important factor is the product’s pH – its acidity or alkalinity.  Nicotine cannot be absorbed efficiently in an acidic environment like that of the stomach; that’s the reason tobacco isn’t consumed like tea or coffee.

The amount of nicotine readily available to the smokeless user can be calculated by measuring the product’s pH.  A higher pH yields more available, or “free” nicotine.  Of course, one of the roles of saliva is to buffer alkaline and acidic foods to a neutral pH, so even acidic smokeless products provide some nicotine as saliva works to neutralize their acidity.

The table reflects levels of nicotine and free nicotine in smokeless tobacco products in 2006 and 2007.  Because nicotine levels were not calculated on dry weight, dry products are not entirely comparable to products with higher moisture content.  Differences can also be seen within categories.

In general, chewing tobacco and dry snuff had low levels of free nicotine, while levels in moist snuff products were considerably higher.

What does this mean for the smoker who switches to smoke-free products?  There are no simple answers.  Inhaling smoke provides a bolus, or spike, of nicotine within seconds of the first puff, but the small amount is metabolized quickly.  Some smokeless products are capable of delivering a similar peak level, but at a slower pace, and research shows that with smokeless products, the falloff from peak levels is much slower.

The broad range of free nicotine levels among these products is good news for smokers.  They should look for a smokeless substitute that satisfies them.

Nicotine (mg/g) and Free Nicotine (mg/g) Levels in Smokeless Tobacco Products in the U.S., 2006 and 2007
ProductNicotineFree Nicotine
Dissolvable Tobacco
Chewing Tobacco
Beech Nut7.10.02
Levi Garrett5.30.06
Red Man8.60.08
Red Man Golden7.70.06
Stoker Chew Apple3.80.01
Taylor’s Pride6.40.06
Traditional Moist Snuff
Cooper LC WG8.01.1
Copenhagen LC13.95.4
Copenhagen Pouches11.26.8
Grizzly LC WG 200610.36.6
Grizzly LC WG 200711.25.9
Husky FC12.94.8
Kayak LC WG11.92.3
Kodiak WG 200610.96.5
Kodiak WG 200710.78.2
Longhorn LC WG13.85.7
Red Seal FC13.23.1
Renegades WG13.42.4
Skoal FC Original13.33.9
Skoal LC Cherry12.71.7
Skoal LC Mint12.93.7
Skoal LC Straight13.43.9
Skoal LC WG12.82.9
Timberwolf LC WG14.15.2
Snus and Snus-Style Snuff
Camel Frost 200613.34.7
Camel Frost 200714.14.7
Camel Original 200613.94.7
Camel Original 200713.56.2
Camel Spice 200613.26.7
Camel Spice 200713.45.1
Catch Dry Eucalyptus*15.91.4
Catch Dry Licorice*16.70.7
General Portion*8.55.1
General White Portion*7.94.8
Skoal Dry11.92.4
Taboka Green13.00.5
Powdered Dry Snuff
Dental Sweet11.10.1
Levi Garrett16.60.1
Railroad Mills23.10.5
Red Seal15.10.4