Thursday, December 29, 2011

Low Nitrosamine Levels in Altria and Reynolds Moist Snuff Products, say Minnesota Researchers

I discussed a year ago the tempest-in-a-teapot issue of tobacco specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) in smokeless tobacco products (here). TSNAs are contaminants found only in tobacco, and they are present in vanishingly small concentrations – mainly in the single-digit parts-per-million range. “Regardless of current TSNA levels,” I wrote, “anti-tobacco extremists will call for reductions.”

Last month, the University of Minnesota’s Stephen Hecht, Irina Stepanov and Dorothy Hatsukami (a member of the FDA Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee) published a letter in Tobacco Control (here), demanding TSNA reductions. This, despite the fact that their data showed that TSNA levels in moist snuff products from Altria and Reynolds were at historically low levels in 2010. I have commented on this group’s anti-smokeless-tobacco articles before (here and here).

Hecht et al. list the levels of NNN and NNK in several Altria and Reynolds brands:

NNN + NNK Levels in Moist Snuff and Snus, in Parts Per Million (ppm), Dry Weight
Brand NNN+NNK (ppm)
Copenhagen 5.6
Copenhagen Long Cut 5.8
Copenhagen LC Wintergreen 4.6
Skoal Long Cut Straight 4.9
Skoal Long Cut Wintergreen 5.2
Skoal Bandits Wintergreen 5.2
Marlboro Snus Rich 0.7
Marlboro Snus Spearmint 0.9
Marlboro Snus Peppermint 0.8
Marlboro Snus Mild 0.8
Kodiak Wintergreen 5.1
Camel Snus Frost 1.5
Camel Snus Mellow 1.7

These NNN and NNK levels are lower, across the board, than those of moist snuff products from the 1980s and 1990s, which I documented in a review article in 2004 (here). Epidemiologic studies from the 1980s and 1990s show that oral cancer risks among moist snuff users were minimally elevated, if at all, when those higher level products were being used.

While Hecht and colleagues assert that “smokeless tobacco is carcinogenic to humans, causing oral, pancreatic and esophageal cancer,” a comprehensive study of cancer risks among smokeless users (here) documented no significant risk for any of these cancers. There is virtually no evidence that current TSNA levels are associated with ANY significant cancer risks. Reducing current levels cannot lower an immeasurable cancer risk.

The article by Hecht et al. indicates that the authors are comfortable with TSNA levels in Marlboro and Camel snus, and that they view these products as acceptable cigarette substitutes. Perhaps Drs. Hecht, Stepanov and Hatsukami will now endorse them in this manner.

No comments: