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Characterization of physiochemical parameters & their effect on microbial content of smokeless tobacco products marketed in north India.

BACKGROUND OBJECTIVES: Smokeless tobacco (SLT) product consumption has profound public health implications for its users. The pH and moisture of SLTs determine the bioavailability of nicotine, the microbial structure dynamics and the amount of microbial conversion of tobacco alkaloids to carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines. This study aimed to characterize and compare the pH, moisture and alkaloid content of various SLT products.

METHODS: Thirty-seven SLT samples including khaini, snus, moist snuff, gul, pan masala, zarda, Mainpuri kapoori and qiwam were collected from the retail market around the National Capital Region in north India and their pH, moisture, nicotine and alkaloid content were measured. The pH and total nicotine were used to calculate the amount of free nicotine, the readily absorbed form, for each product by applying the Henderson-Hasselbalch equation.

RESULTS: The investigation showed that the SLTs varied drastically in their pH (5.36 to 10.27), moisture content (4.7 to 51.7%) and alkaloid content (0.82 to 35.87 mg/g). The pH and free nicotine levels of a product were found to be positively correlated, and the highest free nicotine content was reported in snus samples. Further, the moisture content was seen to impact the bacterial and fungal diversity in these samples.

INTERPRETATION CONCLUSIONS: Studies to detect the presence of pathogenic microbiological genera as well as potentially toxic constituents are warranted. The use of SLTs as an alternative to cigarette smoking should be discouraged, and cessation programmes must call attention to their detrimental effects and emphasize on benefits of quitting SLT consumption.

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