Tobacco users who cannot or will not quit but would like to limit their exposure to carcinogens may instead switch to tobacco products advertised as having less of these harmful chemicals. Although some tobacco companies have developed methods to reduce the formation of nitrosamines--the most abundant and potent tobacco carcinogens, which are created during the curing, fermentation, and aging of tobacco leaves--it is not known if, compared to medicinal nicotine, these products are safer or how much they reduce carcinogen exposure in people.
To evaluate the effects of switching to these products, Dorothy K. Hatsukami, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center in Minneapolis, and colleagues measured carcinogen uptake in 54 users of smokeless tobacco and 51 cigarette smokers who switched to either a "reduced exposure" tobacco product (Swedish snus for the smokeless tobacco users and OMNI cigarettes for the smokers) or medicinal nicotine (nicotine patch). The researchers measured levels of tobacco-specific nitrosamines in the urine of all participants weekly for 2 weeks before and 4 weeks after the switch. Smokers were also assessed for levels of a biomarker for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon uptake.
Each of the four groups of subjects had reduced levels of nitrosamines during the 4 weeks after the switch, although subjects in the medicinal nicotine groups had greater reductions. In addition, among the cigarette smokers, only those who switched to medicinal nicotine experienced a reduction in levels of the biomarker for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon uptake. The researchers also note that
Contact: Sarah L. Zielinski
Journal of the National Cancer Institute