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2-Furfural is a compound that is naturally derived from agricultural food items such as oat, and wheatbran. It has an odour and taste that is described as sweet, woody, bready, and caramel-like.

General uses

Due to the desirable flavour characteristics of 2-furfural, it is widely used as a flavour ingredient in a variety of food products and beverages.

Reported tobacco industry uses

2-furfural is naturally present in tobacco leaves, and is primarily released in tobacco smoke when a cigarette is burnt. It is also produced when other tobacco additives (such as sugars and sorbitol) are burnt.

The smoke that is inhaled from smoking a single cigarette (i.e. mainstream smoke) contains about 12 microgram of 2-furfural.

The odour and taste of 2-furfural makes it an obvious choice as a flavour ingredient for tobacco products. However, there is currently a lack of available information on tobacco manufacturers’ use of 2-furfural as a flavour enhancer. In the Netherlands, only one manufacturer has reported adding 2-furfural to cigarettes to enhance the flavour of their tobacco product. When used as a tobacco additive, 2-furfural is reported to comprise 0.03% of the total weight of the tobacco used in one cigarette.

Harmful health effects

2-Furfural is a very reactive compound and is known to irritate the airways of people exposed to high levels for a long period of time. However, at the levels present in tobacco smoke, 2-furfural is not likely to cause irritation. It is not clear whether 2-furfural reacts with other compounds in smoke.

There is currently no evidence from any studies to suggest that exposure to 2-furfural in cigarette smoke could cause cancer in humans. There is however evidence that 2-furfural speeds up the development of cancers caused by other compounds that are present in tobacco smoke.

It is not yet known whether the presence of 2-furfural in tobacco smoke makes cigarette smoking more attractive. Equally, there are no reports available to suggest that 2-furfural increases the likelihood of a person becoming addicted to smoking cigarettes.

This text is a translation of the factsheet on the tobacco additive 2-furfural was written by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). You can find the original in English on the RIVM website www.tabakinfo.nl

This initiative has received funding from the European Union in the framework of the Health Programme.