Snuffing tobacco more dangerous than puffing

Banish the comforting notion that snuff and chewing tobacco are safe because they don't burn and produce smoke like cigarettes.

A study that looked beyond the well-researched tobacco hazards, nitrosamines and nicotine, has discovered a single pinch -- the amount in a portion -- of smokeless tobacco exposes the user to the same amount of another group of dangerous chemicals as the smoke of five cigarettes.

The findings come in the wake of a rise in both marketing and consumption of smokeless tobacco, which many consumers regard as less dangerous than other forms. Estimates suggest that sales of moist snuff in the US have doubled since the 1980s.

The research bolsters existing evidence that smokeless tobacco contains two dozen other carcinogens that cause oral and pancreatic cancers, the scientists say.

"This study once again clearly shows us that smokeless tobacco is not safe," said Irina Stepanov, Masonic Cancer Centre, University of Minnesota-Minneapolis (UM-M), who led the research team.

"Our finding places snuff on the same list of major sources of exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) as smoking cigarettes."

PAHs are widespread environmental contaminants formed as a result of incomplete burning of wood, coal, fat in meat, and organic matter. PAHs form, for instance, during the grilling of burgers, steaks and other meat.

"The feeling of safety among some smokeless users is wrong," said Stepanov. "A total of 28 carcinogens were identified in smokeless tobacco even before our study," she said, according to an UM-M release.

"Continued exposure to these over a period of time can lead to cancer. Now we have found even more carcinogens in snuff," Stepanov added.

Besides the heightened cancer risk, she noted that chronic use of snuff leads to nicotine addiction, just as it does with cigarette smoking.

These findings were presented at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

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