Formation and analysis of tobacco-specific N-nitrosamines

Crit Rev Toxicol. 1996;26(2):121-37. doi: 10.3109/10408449609017926.


Chemical-analytical studies during the past 4 years led to several new observations on the formation of tobacco-specific N-nitrosamines (TSNA) and their occurrence in smokeless tobacco, mainstream smoke (MS), and sidestream smoke (SS) of American and foreign cigarettes. When snuff was extracted by means of supercritical fluid extraction with carbon dioxide containing 10% methanol, analysis of this material confirmed that the extraction with organic solvents had been partially incomplete. Epidemiological studies in the northern Sudan showed a high risk for oral cancer for users of toombak, a home-made oral snuff. Toombak contains 100-fold higher levels of TSNA than commercial snuff in the U.S. and Sweden. The TSNA content in the saliva of toombak dippers is at least ten times higher than that reported in the saliva of dippers of commercial snuff. Biomarker studies have shown corresponding high levels of hemoglobin adducts with metabolites of NNN and NNK as well as for urinary metabolites of NNK. These data supported the epidemiological findings. The analyses of MS of U.S. and foreign cigarettes smoked under FTC conditions revealed comparable data for the smoke of nonfilter cigarettes and filter cigarettes except in the case of low- and ultralow-yield cigarettes, which showed reduced TSNA yields. The MS of cigarettes made from Burley or dark tobacco is exceptionally high in TSNA, primarily because of the high nitrate content of those tobacco types. Taking puffs of larger volume and drawing puffs more frequently, practices observed among most smokers of cigarettes with low nicotine yield, results in high TSNA values in the MS. The formation of the lung carcinogen NNK is favored during the smoldering of cigarettes, between puffs, when SS is generated. Consequently, in most samples from indoor air polluted with environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), the highest concentration of an individual TSNA is that of NNK. When nonsmokers had remained for up to 2 h in a test laboratory with high ETS pollution, they excreted measurable amounts of NNK metabolites in the urine, indicative of the uptake of TSNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution, Indoor / analysis
  • Carcinogens / analysis*
  • Carcinogens / chemistry
  • Chromatography, Gas
  • Differential Thermal Analysis
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nicotine / analysis
  • Nitrosamines / analysis*
  • Nitrosamines / chemistry
  • Plants, Toxic*
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Solvents / chemistry
  • Tobacco / chemistry*
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / analysis
  • Tobacco, Smokeless / chemistry


  • Carcinogens
  • Nitrosamines
  • Solvents
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution
  • Nicotine