Some Foods Contain Nicotine… But Not Much

One fact frequently used by proponents of e-cigarettes is that regulating their favorite product because it contains nicotine means we should also regulate foods that contain nicotine.  Yes, many foods we eat produce measurable levels of nicotine.  Tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, and green peppers are known to contain small amounts, and black tea is sometimes suggested to contain some, although recent tests don’t confirm this.

Does this nicotine affect us?  Are we, like Homer Simpson, creating addictive tomato-tobacco hybrids (Tomacco)?  The short answer is no.  The dose makes the poison, and in this case the dose of nicotine you receive from a cup of these vegetables barely registers when compared on the same graph with the nicotine content of a single cigarette.  The figure below uses figures produced in a letter to the editor of the NEJM.  Cooked vegetables, especially boiled, will probably have lower values, but the amount is only really significant in relation to the specificity of clinical tests designed to detect nicotine (and cotinine, its metabolite) levels in the blood.

What this figure also highlights is the potential harm from the abundant nicotine found in e-cigarette juice.  The cartridges are intended to be used many, many times so that the delivered dose is not much different than a single smoking session with a real cigarette, but it would be a simple thing to forget and over-consume from the cartridge, resulting in increased total nicotine intake.

I’ve covered it before, and frankly I have more important topics to deal with, but I personally think there’s not enough evidence to conclude that e-cigarettes are as safe as the FDA regulated nicotine replacement therapies designed to help people quit.  As always, I recommend anyone with questions about their health consult an actual physician.  I’m just some guy on the Internet.

11 comments on “Some Foods Contain Nicotine… But Not Much

  1. It should be stated that the comparisons of nicotine contents made by the graph of cigarettes vs. Ecigs are a bit deceiving. At first glance it’s easy to think wow! There is so much nicotine in those cartridges, but the fact is the cartridge is supposed to last all day, if not, several… And typically on the bottles of eliquid it is measured mg/ml so on the extra high nicotine liquids it would be 24mg/ml. Assuming you used 1 ml a day you can reasonably assume you are consuming about a pack worth of cigarettes in nicotine. It is clearly possible to “overdose” a little on the nicotine (which is not the worst thing to you have to worry about considering what else is in an actual cigarette) so if you are a heavy user, you have the option to lower your intake. Which is supposed to be the overall goal anyway. Happy vaping! Oh and eat tomatoes… It’s silly to think you shouldn’t…

  2. I stumbled on this blog by accident, so Im going off this article only. You said “e-cigatettes are (not) as safe as FDA regulated nicotine replacement therapies….”. If you seriously believe this then you have not looked into any research. The FDA report on just two brands of cartridges showed only 2 put of 18 that had trace amounts of carcinogens, and even those two had less than what the FDA deemed acceptable in their nrts. As far as the nicotine goes, even the 24mg juice produces less nicotine per puff than a normal cigarette.

  3. Can someone explain why “pureed tomatoes” and “green tomatoes” have so much more nicotine than “ripe tomatoes”? The green bit could make sense, but I can only understand the pureed if they used a different variety.

  4. I’d never realised this. I have problems with almost all of these foods. I have also tended to eat large servings of single ingredients (like cauliflower and tomato) rather than small amounts of many. This is probably because I wasn’t taught how to cook anything much more complicated than mashed potato and microwaved frozen vegies as a kid. I’ve never smoked though. Oh well, I’m off to one of the countries top ‘adult allergy/intolerance’ clinics soon. Hope they have something valuable to say. Thanks for this post c0nc0rdance.

    • Keep eating a lot of veggies. They are good for you. I think the most important part of this post is “the dose makes the poison” meaning the amount contained in them isn’t high enough to be of concern.

      • Yes, I did get that point. It’s just that I do have troubles digesting most of these foods (not to mention dairy, soy and gluten). So, it ‘probably’ doesn’t have anything to do with nicotine in my case. However, despite the fact that correlation doesn’t equal causation, ears always prick and my eyes open wider when I hear or see information like this that at least ‘could’ come in handy. Don’t worry, I grew up a ‘meat and three veg’ person and current findings suggest that we should be cutting out the meat part
        (at least the ‘red’ meat part)…not the veg’. :)

        • I already knew that tomatoes and eggplants were “nightshades” (which I believe can refer to either of two levels in the classification, solanum being the more specific of them), so I figured I’d look up the details before responding, and found potatoes were in that mix too.

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