'Reduced exposure' tobacco products lessen carcinogen exposure, but medicinal nicotine better

05/26/04

Smokers and other tobacco users who switch to "reduced exposure" tobacco products lessen their exposure to tobacco-associated carcinogens, and those who switch to medicinal nicotine get an even greater reduction, according to a new study that appears in the June 2 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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 carcinogen exposure in users of the OMNI cigarette did not decrease as much as was advertised on the company's Web site, which cited machine-measured exposure of these carcinogens.

"Because the safety profile for medicinal nicotine is better than that for conventional or modified tobacco products, the use of long-term medicinal nicotine products is more likely to result in reduced disease risk," the authors conclude. In addition, the authors stressed the need for U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation of tobacco products so that standards can be established for allowable toxin levels. This would allow the public to "be accurately informed about the extent to which they are exposed to tobacco toxins with the use of these products," the authors write.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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