Nicotine is a naturally occurring organic compound. Tobacco plants contain the highest levels of naturally occurring nicotine, but it can also be found at much lower levels in other natural sources, such as potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants. Nicotine can also be produced in a laboratory, which is commonly known as synthetic nicotine.
It is a chiral molecule with two stereoisomers that have an asymmetrical form that cannot be superimposed on its mirror image, S-nicotine and R-nicotine. In tobacco, it is comprised almost entirely of S-nicotine (>99%), while synthetic nicotine is comprised of both S-nicotine and R-nicotine.i
Watch the video to learn more about nicotine:
Nicotine is the major alkaloid commercially derived from tobacco leaves and is the primary substance in tobacco responsible for the addictive properties of tobacco products.
Whilst generally considered addictive and not risk-free, it has been recognised by the World Health Organizationii and other national health authoritiesiii that nicotine itself does not directly cause cancer. The primary cause of smoking-related disease is exposure by inhalation to the many toxicants, as many as 7,000, created by the burning of tobacco.
Once nicotine has entered the bloodstream, it is distributed throughout the body to the tissue and organs, including the brain. Nicotine exerts its effects by binding to nicotinic acetylcholine receptor’s (nAChR’s), a family of ligand gated ion channels that are widely expressed and present throughout the body’s central and peripheral nervous system. Nicotine’s interaction with nAChRs in the brain causes the release of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid), glutamate and noradrenaline, which are responsible for the psychopharmacological effects of nicotine.
Nicotine is a 2-(3-pyridyl)-substituted analog of N-methylpyrrolidine and is related both structurally and biosynthetically to nornicotine, myosmine), (β-nicotyrine, N′-isopropylnornicotine, norcotinine) and cotinine.
Given the extensive use of nicotine via tobacco products globally, with an estimated 1.3 billion smokers worldwideiv, there is already a wealth of evidence about nicotine’s effects when delivered by smoking a cigarette. However, there is a need to continue to generate additional data and scientific evidence about nicotine as a compound and its effects beyond those experienced by cigarette smokers.
With the increasing availability of various alternative tobacco and nicotine products, further research on nicotine is warranted. An array of scientific studies has contributed to the available evidence regarding nicotine’s effects, which helps to inform the important role it can play in Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR), a public health strategy to minimise the projected negative public health impact of smoking. Reduced Risk Products (RRPs)*†, such as vaping products, tobacco heating products and nicotine pouches, provide a source of nicotine for smokers seeking an alternative to continuing to smoke conventional cigarettes.
Nicotine is an addictive compound. Smokers enjoy the pleasurable effects of nicotine and have cited those pleasurable effects as a reason for continued smoking. The broad range of nicotine’s effects when delivered by products other than cigarettes continues to be widely researched and resulting data may play an important role in ensuring the acceptability of RRPs as complete alternatives to combustible cigarettes, enabling individuals who would otherwise have continued to smoke, to switch to RRPs instead.
Other studies have reported that foetal exposure to nicotine during pregnancy can result in adverse consequences, including adverse reproductive outcomesxxi. Some authorities assert that nicotine exposure during youth can lead to adverse neural and behavioural alterationsxxii. Oral ingestion or dermal absorption of e-cigarette liquids containing nicotine can result in nicotine poisoning depending on the dose and other circumstances, such as nicotine tolerance and body weight. Therefore, it is essential that adult consumers keep nicotine products out of the reach of children and should stop using any nicotine product immediately and seek medical advice if they experience any unusual or adverse effect.
BAT invests significantly in building considerable scientific data to substantiate its alternative tobacco and nicotine products as reduced risk compared to cigarette smoking*†. Since 2018, we have invested over £1.2 billion in research and development activities. Our 1,500 R&D experts have published more than 150 peer-reviewed studies about these alternative products.
Alongside an extensive R&D programme for each of its alternative tobacco and nicotine products, BAT has also been conducting several exploratory studies into the various effects of nicotine itself. Building on the existing data and the gaps identified in the existing knowledge, BAT has undertaken a number of studies and meta-analyses to provide additional evidence about nicotine, including reported effects described above.
Read some of the latest publications:
It is believed that the findings from these studies can help provide much needed new evidence and inform potential future research into encouraging individuals, who would otherwise have continued to smoke, to switch to RRPs.
*Based on the weight-of-evidence and assuming a complete switch from cigarette smoking. These products are not risk free and are addictive.
† Our products as sold in the US, including Vuse, Velo, Grizzly, Kodiak, and Camel Snus, are subject to FDA regulation and no reduced-risk claims will be made as to these products without agency clearance.
This page is not intended as a piece of promotional material for any products, very notably in the US where claims of a certain type are subject to FDA clearance. This update relates to scientific data and is not aimed at a specific market. It is intended to provide further scientific evidence to underpin nicotine, as compound.