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Snuff Not a Safe Option for Those Looking to Stop Smoking

Dec 28, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

Snuff, or smokeless tobacco, is as dangerous as cigarettes and other forms of smoking.   This is the time of year for resolutions and what better resolution that to quit smoking?  Many trying to quit might opt for snuff, thinking it is a healthier choice. In fact smokeless tobacco isn't a safe alternative, says a University of Minnesota cancer expert.  "The results of our studies do not support the concept that smokers should switch to smokeless tobacco," writes Stephen Hecht, PhD.  "Long-term use of nicotine replacement therapy may be a better option."  Hecht has been studying smokeless tobacco—mainly as oral moist snuff—for over two decades.  In fact, snuff can leave at a serious risk of developing cancer of the larynx and other ailments.

The two types of smokeless tobacco are chewing tobacco and snuff.  Chewing tobacco is sold in loose leaf, twist, and plug forms; snuff comes in moist, dry, and sachet forms.  The most popular form of smokeless tobacco today is moist snuff.  Hecht notes that smokeless tobacco—which can cause oral and pancreatic cancer—contains carcinogens called nitrosamines in levels similar to nitrosamines in cigarettes.  Nitrosamine levels in smokeless tobacco are about 1,000 times higher than in other consumer products and beyond the content allowed by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in products such as beer and bacon.  Products touting low nitrosamine claims don't eliminate the risk, according to Hecht.  An enormous amount of indirect evidence indicates that nitrosamines are human carcinogens and tobacco-specific nitrosamines are one of the major groups of chemical carcinogens in tobacco products, no doubt responsible for the link between tobacco use and cancer.   

Smokeless tobacco is also associated with cancers of the esophagus, larynx, and stomach and an increased risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases. 
 Also, 40-60% of smokeless tobacco users exhibit leukoplakia in the area of the mouth where the tobacco is held, usually within a few months of beginning regular use.  Leukoplakia is regarded as precancerous with a malignant transformation rate of up to six percent. 
 Other oral side effects include gingival recession, teeth staining, taste loss, and bad breath as well as an increase in dental caries due to the higher sugar content in the product.  Nicotine in smokeless tobacco is absorbed directly into the bloodstream and is addicting; smokeless tobacco users have similar, or even higher, levels of nicotine than those who smoke a pack or more daily. 
Withdrawal is the same from tobacco whether smoked or not.

The tobacco industry has targeted male adolescents with its aggressive advertising and ads associate smokeless tobacco with rodeos, rock stars, and sports heroes; smokeless tobacco companies sponsor rock concerts, rodeos, auto racing and tractor pulls.  Manufacturers of these products have altered the nicotine content and pH, added flavors, and packaged moist snuff in sachets as starter products which allow users to move on to higher levels of nicotine addiction as tolerance increases.  Smokeless tobacco products bear a warning label about health risks, but sales of moist snuff have continued to increase in the U.S., notes Hecht.  Of the estimated 10 million users of smokeless tobacco, three million are under 21, almost 25% start by the sixth grade, and almost 75% by the ninth grade.  Over five percent of adult American males and one percent of females use smokeless tobacco.  


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