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Scientists discover significant oral cancer risks in smokeless tobacco ingredient


Those who extol the supposed virtues of smokeless tobacco have been dealt a blow by a team of dental scientists from the University of Minnesota who say that they have identified a ingredient that significantly increases the risk of oral cancer.

The substance, known as (S)-NNN, is part of a group known as nitrosamines is common in chewing tobacco and snuff products. According to an article from the U.S. National Cancer Institute, there are currently no regulations governing this additive, but medical experts have linked its consumption with higher rates of esophageal, oral and pancreatic cancer.

The University of Minnesota study utilized concentrated doses of the isolated compound and tested their effects using laboratory rats. Over the course of 17 months, the subjects were given the equivalent of a half-tin of chewing tobacco every day. While the results have yet to be finalized, preliminary observations pointed to onset symptoms of cancerous tumors in the rats' throats and internal organs that were tied to the consumption of (S)-NNN.

"This is the first example of a strong oral cavity carcinogen that’s in smokeless tobacco," Stephen Hecht, the study's lead investigator, said in a press release. "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."

Consumers should take great caution when using both smokeless and traditional tobacco items, as prolonged exposure may result in heightened risk of related diseases. If you have any questions or concerns, consult your dental care provider to learn more.