Chemical Analysis of Alaskan Iq’mik Smokeless Tobacco

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Iq’mik, a form of smokeless tobacco (ST), is traditionally used by Cup’ik and Yup’ik Eskimo people of western Alaska. Iq’mik is sometimes incorrectly considered to be a healthier alternative to smoking because its ingredients are perceived as “natural.” Our chemical characterization of iq’mik shows that iq’mik is not a safe alternative to smoking or other ST use.


We measured nicotine and pH levels of tobacco and ash used to prepare iq’mik. We also characterized levels of toxins which are known to be present in ST including tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) using chromatographic separations coupled with isotope dilution mass spectrometry.


Nicotine content in the iq’mik tobacco was very high, ranging from 35 to 43mg/g, with a mean of 39mg/g. The pH of the iq’mik tobacco–ash mixture was 11, an extremely high level compared with most ST products. High levels of PAHs were seen in the fire-cured tobacco samples with a benzo[a]pyrene level of 87ng/g. Average TSNA levels in the tobacco were 34, 2,700, and 340ng/g for 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol (NNAL), N′-nitrosonornicotine (NNN), and 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK), respectively.


Iq’mik contains high levels of the more easily absorbed unionized nicotine as well as known carcinogenic TSNAs and PAHs. The perception that iq’mik is less hazardous than other tobacco products due to the use of “natural” ingredients is not warranted. This chemical characterization of iq’mik gives a better understanding of the risk of possible adverse health effects of its use.

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