Are Tobacco-Infused Cocktails Safe To Drink?



tobacco cocktailsPhoto: Courtesy of Bar Charley.
Smoking in bars may be (mostly) a thing of the past, but drinking tobacco is just getting started. Yes, tobacco. Those dried brown leaves with their unmistakable flavor are now being infused into cocktails for a smoky surprise. Whether that surprise is good or bad depends on a few factors — one of them being if you light up yourself.

But, the type of tobacco used can impact the drink's taste in a major way. NPR talked to a few mixologists who've concocted their own nicotine-tinged cocktails, and pipe tobacco — which usually lacks the 600 or so added ingredients found in cigarettes — seems to be the winner, though clove smokes do make a cameo in one bar's "sweet tea." Sang Yoon of Father's Office in L.A. says there's no hiding tobacco, even if it's sugared up. You still get that cigarette buzz, and it even burns a bit going down. Um, yum?!

While the trend's been on the rise for a few years, it no longer seems content with its simple status as a speakeasy curiosity, especially now that tobacco vodka (you can even get it in menthol!) and bitters are on the market. So, now anyone can make their own, and that's where things get, well, hazy.

The problem with these infused liquors, according to researcher Stan Glantz of the University of California, San Francisco, is that there's no way of knowing how much tobacco we're drinking. And, too much can definitely be dangerous. Sure, the whole breathing-smoke issue is solved, but the CDC warns that even low concentrations of liquid tobacco can cause tremors and increase heart and respiratory rates, blood pressure, and levels of alertness. And, while very few studies have been conducted about ingesting it, one found that downing more than .5 grams of nicotine — a chemical component naturally found in tobacco — could harm an adult. That's one-tenth of a teaspoon, for all you non-metric speakers.

So, while we don't want to be a buzzkill, we're thinking, until we know more, this top-shelf trend might just need to stay where it's been — out of reach. (NPR)