The dangerous stuff in tobacco snuff

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A study analyzing the chemical composition of smokeless tobacco—snuff and chewing tobacco—finds that, in excess of the risks posed by tobacco and nicotine exposure, users are subjecting their bodies to an array of harmful chemicals. Confirming and expanding on previous research into smokeless tobacco products, the researchers found that snuff and “dip” contain nearly 30 carcinogens that can cause oral and pancreatic cancers, and in a concentration that far exceeds cigarettes: one pinch of smokeless tobacco has five times the harmful chemicals of a single cigarette.

The researchers set out to examine the concentration of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)—potentially potent carcinogens formed by the incomplete burning of a range of substances—in smokeless tobacco. People have long believed that, because you don’t have to burn smokeless tobacco products to consume them, your risk of exposure to PAHs was minimal. This new research suggests that isn’t true, and that PAHs are likely introduced into snuff and chewing tobacco during the curing process, which often involves wood smoke.

The study, led by Irina Stepanov from the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Cancer Center, was presented this past weekend at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C. Researchers hope that the findings will go some way to quashing the misconception that “packing a lip” or inhaling a nostril full of snuff is somehow less dangerous than lighting up a cigarette.