There are dozens of tobacco products that provide individuals who use them with the satisfaction provided by nicotine. Cigarettes are probably the most identifiable or obvious of the group of stimulants, but chewing tobacco, dipping tobacco (placed between lip and gum) and even tobacco gums are extremely common.
When it comes to associated health risks, in terms of cancers and other diseases, cigarettes are arguably still the main perceived culprit. However, in some ways this maintains a common misconception that the other forms of tobacco are less addictive and, more importantly, less dangerous.
In a recent study conducted at the Masonic Cancer Center, at the University of Minnesota, researchers looked at the specific link between smokeless tobaccos and their impact on oral cancers. They did this using laboratory rats that were given two separate forms of nitrosonornicotine (NNN), (S)-NNN and (R)-NNN, in combination with water and measured the fatality rates, the former being a chemical found in smokeless tobacco products.
All the rats that were given (S)-NNN alone or in combination with water experienced significant weight loss after 12 months and passed away after 17 months. Those that consumed (R)-NNN on the other hand lived an extra 3 months on average. In the case of (S)-NNN all the laboratory rats had oesophageal tumours and had 100% occurrence of oral tumours in the tongue, buccal mucosa, soft palate and pharynx. Compared to those in the (R)-NNN group, where only one in five rats experienced oral tumours and three in five had oesophageal tumours, the difference is extremely noteworthy.
“(S)-NNN is the only chemical in smokeless tobacco known to cause oral cancer,” said Silvia Balbo, Ph.D. research associate at the university, presenting at the American Association for Cancer Research in Chicago. “This finding provides mechanistic underpinning for the epidemiologic observations that smokeless tobacco products cause oral cancer.”
While these results were observed in an animal study, the researchers are eager to discover how this exactly translates to human beings including identifying further carcinogens in smokeless tobacco. Their hopes are to have regulatory agencies, in this case the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), take action and reduce the amounts of these chemicals found in tobacco products.
“Measures should be taken to reduce this chemical in smokeless tobacco,” Balbo concluded. “If it is not possible to stop the use of smokeless tobacco products, we should advocate for a reduction of this chemical in these products.”
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