Guar Gum
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Guar Gum

Guar gum is an extract of the guar bean plant. It is taken from the seeds of the plant and due to its gelling properties is used commercially (in powdered form).

General uses

Guar gum has many uses particularly in the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries where it is used as a thickener, binder, emulsifier and stabilizer. It is added to various foods such as breakfast cereals, dairy products, gravy, processed vegetables, and baked goods.

Reported tobacco industry uses

The tobacco part of most cigarettes (i.e. the shredded brown interior) is a mixture of the tobacco leaf and a paper-like product called ‘reconstituted tobacco’.  Reconstituted tobacco is made up of mashed tobacco stems and other parts of the tobacco leaf that would otherwise be discarded. Tobacco manufacturers reportedly add guar gum (and its derivatives) to help bind this reconstituted tobacco in cigarettes. Tobacco manufacturers also use guar gum to prepare the cigarette paper that wraps the tobacco.

The amount of guar gum added to bind the tobacco can make up between 0.6-1.8 % of the total weight of the tobacco used in one cigarette.

Harmful health effects

Guargum is generally regarded as safe for use in food and cosmetics. However, this does not suggest it is safe when inhaled from smoking cigarettes. When a cigarette is burnt, the guar gum present produces several toxic compounds that are either well-known to cause cancer in humans (e.g. formaldehyde, benzo(a)pyrene and benzene) or thought to possibly cause cancer in humans (e.g. acetaldehyde and styrene) as defined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (a leading expert cancer organisation).

Some of the compounds formed when guar gum is burnt have a distinctive flavour. For example, diacetyl is one of the substances produced and has a butterscotch flavour, which can make a cigarette more appealing due to the improved flavour of the smoke. 2-Furfural is also formed and has an odour and taste that is described as sweet, woody, bready, and caramel-like. Therefore, these compounds help make a cigarette more attractive by imparting a pleasant flavour to the cigarette smoke. This can ultimately lead to more cigarettes being smoked and thus greater exposure harm due to the toxic substances in cigarette smoke.

This text of the factsheet on the tobacco additive Guar Gum is written by the German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ). You can find the original in English on the RIVM website http://www.dkfz.de/de/tabakkontrolle  

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