More dangerous chemicals found in smokeless tobacco

Published in The Hindu on August 17, 2009

Sokeless tobacco
Scientists have found two dozen more carcinogens in smokeless tobacco. In this file photo, a cancer patient awaits treatment at a Government hospital in Chennai, India. — Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Contrary to popular belief, smokeless tobacco — snuff and chewing tobacco — has been found to more harmful than cigarettes. Scientists have identified two dozen more carcinogens in smokeless tobacco. Smokeless tobacco can cause oral and pancreatic cancers.

There is another important finding: one pinch of smokeless tobacco is equivalent to five cigarettes. But the dangerous chemicals found in smokeless tobacco are different from what is present in cigarettes.

The research on polycyclic hydrocarbons (PAH) in smokeless tobacco was presented at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Washington.

The scientists found snuff as one of the major sources of PAH, and hence falls in the same category as cigarettes. It was earlier considered that snuff contains only traces of PAH as it is not burned when used. That assumption has been proved to be wrong.

Although snuff is not burnt by the user, the manufacturing process contaminates it with PAH. One of the several steps used in manufacturing it is fire-curing, where the tobacco leaves are turned to snuff. The PAH generated by the smouldering wood, when snuff is fire-cured, contaminates it. It is well known that incomplete burning of wood and coal result in PAH production.