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An old friend once told me that a good way to kill bugs in my garden was to soak lots of cigarette butts in water to make a gallon of the brown liquid. Then add one ounce of battery acid and mix well. He said to spray it on the garden and wait two to three weeks before harvesting because it would take that long for the mixture to become Niacin. I thought it sounded cool but never tried it.

Now 40 years later I would like to, but I want to know if this is really true or would it ruin my vegetables? It's been 22 years since my chemistry classes and tried to make sense of this link.
It seems like the nicotine/acid thing would become neutral, but again, I have forgotten so much that I'd feel safer running this past a few more knowledgeable folks first.

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  • $\begingroup$ I, uhh... "wouldn't" would be a good way to say it. $\endgroup$ – SendersReagent Apr 18 '16 at 1:02
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because what you're describing is fraught with potential harm to you or others. $\endgroup$ – Todd Minehardt Apr 18 '16 at 3:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Todd This should probably not be closed. I think this question poses a bigger threat if it is not properly answered. Consider this meta posting, too. Apart from this it is about chemistry and it can be answered objectively. I personally see no reason to close it. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Apr 18 '16 at 5:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin-マーチン - I've reconsidered based on your comment and rereading the question. It looks to me like the OP is asking for advice concerning what amounts to synthesis of niacin from nicotine and the effect on vegetables. Voting to reopen. $\endgroup$ – Todd Minehardt Apr 18 '16 at 13:12
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This seems like a bad idea to me.

The use battery acid (sulfuric acid) seems really terrible. In the past there was an awful problem with coal power plants releasing sulfur oxides into the air which formed acid rain (sulfuric acid). You're proposing making a brew that is orders of magnitude worse than acid rain to put on your garden plants. I think such a strong solution of acid would get rid of the bugs by killing your plants. ;-)

If you goggle nicotine "bug spray" you can find a number of websites that discussing seeping tobacco in water, then filtering the brew to make a spray. In such a solution the nicotine is so dilute that it would be safe to handle. However concentrated solutions of nicotine like used for various e-cigarettes could be dangerous to handle. Lookup nicotine MSDS in google (here is one such MSDS sheet).

(1)So no battery acid is needed.

(2) The various websites state that the sprayed nicotine solution decomposes fairly quickly - a couple of days, not weeks.

Frankly I don't smoke or chew tobacco. Since I'd have to buy the tobacco for such a use, I'd rather just buy a commercial pesticide and follow its use instructions. It is absolutely crazy to me that so many folks so berserk when they see the word "chemical." If you showed a strawberry to most folks they would just identify it as such. But it is nothing but a sack of hundreds of chemicals. So to me all strawberries are "organic strawberries." To someone who is allergic to strawberries one can be deadly. Did you know that there are varieties of lima beans which have a high enough concentration of cyanide that eating them can kill? (dangerous foods) So spraying a nicotine solution may seem "natural" but it is still a chemical.

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The principle is simple: The residual nicotine in the cigarette butts cause disruption to the nervous system of insects, just as caffeine would. The sulfuric acid is added to increase solubility as a salt.

My answer to efficacy is two parts:

1.) While this may kill insects if the nicotine concentration is high enough, a few butts in a gallon may not be enough. Nicotine is potent and the reason that tobacco produces nicotine in the first place is to act as a pesticide, recommend experimenting with number of cigarettes to find an effective number.

2.) An ounce of battery acid may be a bit much and give you a solution that is too acidic for plants. I would recommend using maybe a table spoon at most and buffering the solution with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).

As a disclaimer I make no warranty of safety.

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    $\begingroup$ I am downvoting this, because safety is the prime concern of the question. It should be thoroughly addressed as such. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Apr 18 '16 at 5:34

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