Role of Oxides of Nitrogen in Tobacco-Specific Nitrosamine Formation in Flue-Cured Tobacco

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Abstract

Tobacco is known to contain a class of nitrosamines known as tobacco-specific nitrosamines or TSNA. Nitrosation of naturally occurring tobacco alkaloids is commonly accepted as the mechanism of TSNA formation in tobacco. Because green and freshly harvested tobaccos are virtually free of TSNA, formation and accumulation of TSNA are generally considered to occur during the curing process. Most recent hypotheses have focused on microbial reduction of nitrate to nitrite and other oxides of nitrogen (NOcompounds) that react with tobacco alkaloids to form TSNA during curing. This natural microbial process remains the prevalent hypothesis for TSNA formation in burley and other air-cured tobaccos. However, a different mechanism for the formation of TSNA in flue-cured tobacco, independent of microbial activity, is documented in this paper. It is common practice to flue-cure Virginia or blonde tobacco in bulk barns that incorporate forced air ventilation and temperature control. For the last thirty-five years, many modern bulk barns in North America generally have used liquid propane gas (LPG) with direct-fired burners that exhaust combustion gases directly into the barn where the tobacco is exposed to those gases. Our studies indicate that LPG combustion by-products in the exhaust stream, namely NO, react with naturally occurring tobacco alkaloids to form TSNA. Heat exchange curing methods preclude exposure of the tobacco to combustion gases and by-products, thereby eliminating this significant source of TSNA formation, without degrading leaf quality or smoking character. Research findings from 1998 and 1999 are presented to demonstrate the role of NOgases in TSNA formation and the significance of direct-fired curing as a primary source of TSNA formation in flue-cured tobacco. Also, data from an extensive barn conversion program in 2000, which resulted in a 94% average reduction in TSNA levels in cured flue-cured leaf, are presented.

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