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Scientists ID ‘strong oral carcinogen’ in smokeless tobacco

Philadelphia—Scientists say they identified a strong oral carcinogen in smokeless tobacco and called for federal regulation of the substance (S)-NNN, one of a family of compounds called nitrosamines, in these products.

Although mounting evidence suggests an increased risk of cancer of the mouth, esophagus and pancreas for users of chewing tobacco, snuff and related products, until now no substance in these products was clearly implicated as a cause of mouth cancer, said Stephen Hecht, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, who led the study.

“This is the first example of a strong oral cavity carcinogen that’s in smokeless tobacco,” he said. “Our results are very important in regard to the growing use of smokeless tobacco in the world, especially among younger people who think it is a safer form of tobacco than cigarettes. We now have the identity of the only known strong oral carcinogen in these products.”

The Food and Drug Administration has authority to regulate tobacco products but there are no regulations on levels of specific carcinogens.

Research results were reported Aug. 22 at the 244th national meeting and exposition of the American Chemical Society.