Chewing Tobacco No Safer Than Smoking

MONDAY Aug. 17, 2009 -- Tobacco users who think it's safer to dip snuff or chew tobacco than smoke are dead wrong, researchers say.

A study has found that taking one pinch of smokeless tobacco delivers the same amount of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) as smoking five cigarettes.

PAHs are common environmental contaminants that are formed as a result of incomplete burning of wood, coal, fatty meat or organic matter, according to information in a news release from the American Chemical Society. For instance, PAHs form during the grilling of meats. Some are known carcinogens.

The research on PAHs in smokeless tobacco was scheduled to be reported this week at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, held in Washington, D.C. It adds to existing evidence that smokeless tobacco contains two dozen other carcinogens that cause oral and pancreatic cancers, scientists say.

"This study once again clearly shows us that smokeless tobacco is not safe," said Irina Stepanov, who led the research team. "Our finding places snuff on the same list of major sources of exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as smoking cigarettes," she stated in the news release.

Experts hope this evidence helps to end the idea that because it doesn't burn, smokeless tobacco is safer. The marketing and consumption of smokeless tobacco is on the increase, and some estimates suggest that sales of moist snuff in America have doubled since the 1980s.

"The feeling of safety among some smokeless users is wrong," said Stepanov, a chemist at the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center in Minneapolis. "A total of 28 carcinogens were identified in smokeless tobacco even before our study. Continued exposure to these over a period of time can lead to cancer. Now we have found even more carcinogens in snuff."

Until recently, scientists wrongly believed that, because the tobacco was not burned when used, only trace amounts of PAH existed in snuff, Stepanov noted.

"Even though smokeless tobacco use does not involve burning, moist snuff is getting contaminated with PAH during its manufacturing," Stepanov said, likely during the "fire-curing" process that is used to turn tobacco leaves into snuff.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Posted: August 2009


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