Analysis of 23 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in smokeless tobacco by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry

Chem Res Toxicol. 2010 Jan;23(1):66-73. doi: 10.1021/tx900281u.


Smokeless tobacco contains 28 known carcinogens and causes precancerous oral lesions and oral and pancreatic cancer. A recent study conducted by our research team identified eight different polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in U.S. moist snuff, encouraging further investigations of this group of toxicants and carcinogens in smokeless tobacco products. In this study, we developed a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry method that allows simultaneous analysis of 23 various PAHs in smokeless tobacco after a simple two-step extraction and purification procedure. The method produced coefficients of variation under 10% for most PAHs. The limits of quantitation for different PAHs varied between 0.3 and 11 ng/g tobacco, starting with a 300 mg sample. The recovery of the stable isotope-labeled internal standards averaged 87%. The method was applied to analysis of 23 moist snuff samples that included various flavors of the most popular U.S. moist snuff brands, as well as 17 samples representing the currently marketed brands of spit-free tobacco pouches, a relatively new type of smokeless tobacco. The sum of all detected PAHs in conventional moist snuff averaged 11.6 (+/-3.7) microg/g dry weight; 20% of this amount was comprised of carcinogenic PAHs. The levels of PAHs in new spit-free tobacco products were much lower than those in moist snuff; the sum of all detected PAHs averaged 1.3 (+/-0.28) microg/g dry weight. Our findings render PAHs one of the most prevalent groups of carcinogens in smokeless tobacco. Urgent measures are required from the U.S. tobacco industry to modify manufacturing processes so that the levels of these toxicants and carcinogens in U.S. moist snuff are greatly reduced.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Carcinogens / analysis
  • Carcinogens / chemistry
  • Carcinogens / isolation & purification
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / analysis*
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / chemistry
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / isolation & purification
  • Tobacco, Smokeless / chemistry*


  • Carcinogens
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons