Enhancing the sensitivity of extraction for the detection of nicotine in complex samples

Nicotine is considered a so-called ‘emerging lifestyle contaminant’. Elefteria Psillakis at the Technical University of Crete, Greece, used HiSorbTM sample probes to improve the sensitivity of her extraction technique to enable the detection of low levels of nicotine among 4000 compounds.

Nicotine leachates are a widespread environmental problem

Nicotine has been widely detected in water and wastewater. A significant source of nicotine contamination in natural waters is leachates from discarded cigarettes – the most littered items in urban areas and along coastlines. Elefteria Psillakis, professor of water chemistry at the Technical University of Crete, Greece, and her team have embarked on a new and upcoming area of research – investigating nicotine’s fate in the environment. The project was funded by Philip Morris Products SA (Investigator-Initiated Study award) and the results were published in a peer-reviewed environmental chemistry journal.1

Their recent investigation involved analysing the photodegradation of nicotine in water leachates from conventional cigarette butts and ‘heat-not- burn’ cigarettes (the new generation of tobacco products with a fast- expanding market). For this, the team used high-capacity sorptive extraction followed by thermal desorption–gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (TD–GC–MS).

Overcoming a challenging matrix

One of the challenges the group faced was finding an extraction technique sensitive enough to deal with low sample volumes. This would enable them to closely monitor nicotine’s degradation and identify the formation of photodegradation products among the over 4000 other compounds present in the cigarette leachates.

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