Smoking cigarettes causes more than 480,000 deaths a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, with an increased risk of 12 types of cancer and 21 diseases. It affects not only the smoker, but anyone who breathes in their secondhand smoke. Some may think smokeless tobacco is safer since the user isn’t inhaling thousands of chemicals and any harm would only affect the health of the user, but that’s not a very good reason to use it. One of the Food and Drug Administration’s warning labels for smokeless tobacco states, “This product is not a safe alternative to cigarettes,” and a new study confirms the truth to that statement.
Smokeless tobacco is addictive because it has higher levels of nicotine. It also has higher levels of nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. These products can be analyzed through biomarkers in user’s blood or urine that “show whether someone had been exposed to chemicals found in tobacco products.” The researchers looked at 23,684 adult study participants from 1999 to 2012 for “biomarkers for nicotine, one type of nitrosamine, lead, and four other compounds.”
Those in the study who only used smokeless tobacco versus cigarettes had higher blood levels of a nicotine biomarker, because “dip and chew contain more nicotine than cigarettes.” Two cans of dip a week gives you the equivalent nicotine as if you smoked 1-1/2 packs of cigarettes a day. Lead levels were higher for smokeless tobacco users versus non-tobacco users, but similar to cigarette smokers.
The study only looked at adult tobacco users, but results from the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed “nearly 10% of high school boys have used smokeless tobacco in the last 30 days.” Some youth may use smokeless because they deem it safer than cigarettes, but cancers associated with its use and its highly addictive nature should be a concern for those in tobacco prevention.
Some questions weren’t asked of the participants, such as the amount of smokeless tobacco used, what other smokeless products participants used, or how often they used the products. But researchers say even with these questions unanswered, the study provided “a good snapshot of typical levels of carcinogen and nicotine exposure in current smokeless tobacco users in the United States.” Another study is already in the works.