Toronto Urban Legends: Is Tim Hortons Spiking the Brew?
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Toronto Urban Legends: Is Tim Hortons Spiking the Brew?

Is there any truth to persistent rumours about Tim Hortons adding nicotine to its coffee?

The truth behind the tales people tell about Toronto.

Ever find yourself breaking out in a cold sweat, developing a splitting headache, and tearing a strip off a complete stranger all while craving a cigarette Tim Hortons’ double-double? If the persistent urban legend is true, these fits may be the result of a sinister ploy by the coffee company to ensure that customers return, by adding nicotine to the coffee.

Bean struggling (get it?) to kick the coffee habit? Tim Hortons isn’t to blame. There’s not an ounce of truth, or nicotine, to the legend.

The yarn goes something like this: While visiting family in Toronto for the first time, an American tourist makes frequent trips to the nation’s most recognized coffee house, becoming inexplicably enamoured of Canada’s famous brew. In a tamer version of the legend, the sorry sod returns stateside green around the gills. A visit to the doctor reveals nicotine coursing through his veins. Since the tourist is a nonsmoker, his doctor is baffled. Further tests reveal that a copious amount of nicotine-laden coffee ingested during his romp north is the source of the health scare.

In a more sinister version, the American meets his demise in a Tim Hortons. Deathly allergic to nicotine, a single sip brings on cardiac arrest. Another version has a teenage girl’s heart bursting the instant her extra-large combines with the effects of a nicotine patch.

Tim Hortons is aware of the legend. They address it directly, here. Michelle Robichaud, public relations manager for Tim’s, told Torontoist unequivocally, “There is in fact nothing added to our coffee. We believe that our guests are addicted to consistency.”

Supplementing coffee with nicotine would not only be illegal, it would be extremely unhealthy.

Nicotine is derived from members of the nightshade family of plants. Scientifically known as Solanaceae, these include tobacco, of course, but also some edible plants, like potatoes and bell peppers, both of which have been found to contain vanishingly small amounts of nicotine.

In its purest form, nicotine is more potent than toxins like strychnine, cyanide, and arsenic. It can be used as an agricultural insecticide.


It’s clearly implausible that Tim Hortons would deliberately poison its customers. So how did the rumour get started? Finding the source of an urban legend is impossible. Tracing its propagation, however, is easier. Urban legends relating to nicotine have a history. In the ’80s, there were tales about McDonald’s adding nicotine to hamburgers. In the ’90s, Pokémon cards were rumoured to be laced with the substance. Today in the U.S., Starbucks coffee has its own nicotine legend.

Why Tim Hortons? Possible explanations include envy.

No one denies that caffeine, a naturally occurring stimulant found in coffee beans, is addictive, but it’s nowhere near as potent as nicotine. Even so, Tim Hortons has been wildly successful at selling caffeine. Founded by the late NHLer in 1964, the business has grown from a few Hamilton outlets into a force to be reckoned with. Nationwide, 80 per cent of all single servings of coffee purchased today are poured from a Tim Hortons’ carafe.

No doubt some would like to see Tim Hortons spend time in the penalty box, just ’cause.

If it’s nicotine you crave, light up a cig. On second thought, butt out and get your jolt from a mug of joe. Caffeine is less addictive, and it’s not nearly as unhealthy. You’ll have a nice, long life to spend contemplating urban legends.