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Smokeless Tobacco Moist Snuff High in Carcinogens


If you think using a smokeless tobacco product called moist snuff is safer than smoking cigarettes, think again. A new study shows that snuff contains significantly high levels of toxins and cancer-causing substances.

Snuff is a fine-grain tobacco that usually comes in pouches that users “pinch” or “dip” between their gum and lower lip. One startling statistic is the number of young people who use smokeless tobacco: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 20 percent of high school boys and 2 percent of high school girls use this product. Of the 12 to 14 million Americans who use smokeless tobacco, one-third are younger than 21, and more than half of them developed the habit before they were 13 years old.

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Use of moist snuff increased by nearly 80-fold between 1986 and 2003, and part of the reason is that people think this tobacco product is safer than cigarettes. Although smokeless tobacco use is associated with a lower risk of cancer when compared to cigarette smoking, it can lead to precancerous oral lesions and oral, esophageal, and pancreatic cancer. A major reason is that snuff contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which may contribute to cancer-causing effects.

In this new study, scientists analyzed 23 moist snuff samples that included various flavors of the most popular brands in the United States. They discovered 23 different PAHs in the samples, of which 9 were carcinogens, and concluded that PAHs are among the most abundant groups of cancer-causing substances in moist snuff. They also evaluated 17 samples of a new spit-free tobacco product and found that they contained much lower levels of PAHs than the moist snuff.

Based on their findings, the investigators note in their report that “urgent measures are required from the US tobacco industry to modify manufacturing processes so that the levels of these toxicants and carcinogens in US moist snuff are greatly reduced.” They also pointed out that the low amounts of PAHs in the new spit-free smokeless brands and in a brand of moist snuff called Hawken present strong evidence that PAH levels can be greatly reduced by manufacturers.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Stepanov I et al. Chemical Research in Toxicology 2009 Oct 27 online