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I am an ex smoker who now vapes (uses e-cigs). Various authorities are equating vaping with smoking by calling it a 'tobacco product' - which is in a sense true given that the majority of nicotine sold is extracted from the leaves of tobacco. I am interested in the practicality (or otherwise) of extracting nicotine from other botanical sources.

Of course, it is not just tobacco that contains nicotine, it is common in other plants of the nightshade family, as suggested by The Nicotine Content of Common Vegetables & Nicotine: Occurrence and biosynthesis. The second source notes:

Nicotine is a natural product of tobacco, occurring in the leaves in a range of 0.5 to 7.5% depending on variety.[84] Nicotine also naturally occurs in smaller amounts in plants from the family Solanaceae (such as potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant).[85]

Reference 85 points back to the first link, which shows this table.

Table of nicotine levels in common food plants

But looking at the numbers, it seems unlikely. At even .5%, the 'low nicotine' tobacco leaf comes in at 5 mg/g, which is 5,000,000 ng/g - around 50,000 times more concentrated than eggplant. In fact, here is a graph of the log10 value (2 is ten times larger than 1) of each.

enter image description here

On the other hand, the ability of a plant to produce nicotine is retained and handed down to ancestors because nicotine is a pesticide that ..discourages insects from eating the plant, and larger herbivores will also get sick if they eat too much of it. Logically, levels of nicotine would be higher in the leaves and stems of a plant than in the fruits/food that we & animals are more interested in eating. That again makes sense, since most fruits are 'designed' to be put through the stomach of a larger animal as part of the process of regeneration.

That logic seems to be borne out by the levels of nicotine in tomatoes, that start around 40 ng/g in green tomatoes, but end up at just over 4 ng/g in ripe tomatoes (not sure what's going on with that 'pureed tomato' level of over 50 ng!). The drop suggests to me that's the plant's way of preventing consumption while the fruits are still developing, but making them safe(r) to eat once ripe.

But what about the nicotine content in the leaves of those plants? Logically they might have a higher nicotine content. Does anyone know of studies of the levels of nicotine in the other parts of plants of the nightshade family?

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  • $\begingroup$ Apparently someone thinks this question is less than optimal. Would appreciate any suggestions on improving it.. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Thompson Jan 24 '16 at 5:17
  • $\begingroup$ It might be an opinion about nicotine in general. This question has quite a bit more data than an average question, but I'm not aware of large nicotine levels in other parts of plants. I assume tobacco will still have the highest nicotine levels, because that's what people have been selecting for for centuries. I also assume that the FDA doesn't like e-cigarettes because they still have nicotine, regardless of source. Nicotine is addictive at low doses and toxic at high doses. They really don't like candy flavored nicotine products that might attract children. $\endgroup$ – user137 Jan 24 '16 at 9:45
  • $\begingroup$ "..I'm not aware of large nicotine levels in other parts of plants. I assume tobacco will still have the highest nicotine levels, because that's what people have been selecting for for centuries." I suspect therein lies the answer. "I also assume that the FDA doesn't like e-cigarettes because they still have nicotine," As do nicotine patches, lozenges, gum and puffers (inhalators).. "Nicotine is addictive at low doses and toxic at high doses." Not much. There is no single instance of getting a lab rat addicted to it. It is largely the other things in tobacco smoke (like WTAs) that .. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Thompson Jan 24 '16 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ .. are so addictive. Most people that can transition from smoking to e-cigs typically drop the nicotine levels gradually. Not a great sign of an 'addictive substance'. "toxic at high doses" Yes, The dose makes the poison, and a 2014 study estimated an LD50 dose of 500 mg for an adult human. It is not to be treated lightly, and should be kept in bottles with child-proof cap, out of reach of children. "They really don't like candy flavored nicotine products that might attract children." Umm.. nicotine lozenges are designed in yummy .. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Thompson Jan 24 '16 at 10:04
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    $\begingroup$ Note that the nicotine is not the problem and never was the problem. There are, apparently, some studies that link nicotine itself to certain cancers but the reason that smoking is bad for you is overwhelmingly because you smoke it. Take away combustion and most of the problem basically disappears. Therefore, the source (or even presence) of nicotine is essentially irrelevant. That said, please don't use this forum as a soap box to tout the improvements of e-cigs over smoking. I happen to agree with you 100%, but this is not the place for it. $\endgroup$ – terdon Jan 24 '16 at 18:22
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.. I'm not aware of large nicotine levels in other parts of plants. I assume tobacco will still have the highest nicotine levels, because that's what people have been selecting for for centuries. .. - user137

That logic seems compellingly sound.

Based on that, why would a researcher even bother to measure the nicotine content of the other parts of non-tobacco plants?

  1. They are not being eaten by consumers & thereby have little or no risk of poisoning them.
  2. The levels of nicotine would be expected to be so far lower than the 'commercially viable' tobacco leaves as to be of no interest (purely for their nicotine content).

So in answer to my own question.

Does anyone know of studies of the levels of nicotine in the other parts of plants of the nightshade family?

No, because it is unlikely any such research has been performed.

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