PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 22, 2012 Scientists today reported identification of the first substance in smokeless tobacco that is a strong oral carcinogen ― a health risk for the 9 million users of chewing tobacco, snuff and related products in the U.S. ― and called upon the federal government to regulate or ban the substance.
The researchers reported here at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. The meeting, which continues through Thursday, features more than 8,600 reports on new developments in science, with an anticipated attendance of 14,000 scientists and others.
"This is the first example of a strong oral cavity carcinogen that's in smokeless tobacco," said Stephen Hecht, Ph.D., who led the study. "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."
Evidence has been accumulating for years that people who use smokeless tobacco have an increased risk of cancer of the mouth, esophagus and pancreas. Scientists also knew that smokeless tobacco users are exposed to a variety of carcinogens and experience some damage to their genetic material impairing its normal function. But until now, no substance in these products was clearly implicated as a cause of mouth cancer, explained Hecht, who is at the University of Minnesota.
Hecht's team identified the culprit as (S)-NNN, one of a family of hundreds of compounds called nitrosamines, most of which are carcinogenic, capable of causing cancer. Nitrosamines occur in a variety of foods, ranging from beer to bacon, and also form naturally in the stomach
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