Are Tobacco Alternatives Safe?

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For many cigarette smokers, all the evidence about increased cancer risk doesn’t do them any good. They’d like to kick the habit, but the pull of addiction is just too strong. More than 60 million Americans continue to smoke, which roughly translates to about a quarter of the country’s population. For decades, doctors, scientists, and health officials have been looking for less harmful tobacco alternatives in the hopes of weaning patients off of their addiction. And that’s what this story is all about — are the smokeless tobacco products safe? And are they effective?

 According to research presented at a recent meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, when it comes to many popular quit-smoking methods, the answer is no, they are neither safe nor effective. Recently, Minnesota researchers tested the carcinogen (cancer-causing) levels in smokeless tobacco and nicotine products, and the levels in the people using them. They specifically looked at several types of “oral tobacco” products in the U.S. that have 100 times the carcinogen levels of other products designed to be taken orally. The safest — meaning those that have the lowest amount of carcinogens — were found to be hard snuff lozenges and medicinal nicotine products.

 In a related study, 54 people who used smokeless tobacco brands were asked to switch to either “Swedish snus” (a type of chewing tobacco) or the nicotine patch for one month. Researchers measured the level of carcinogens before the switch, at two weeks, and at the one-month mark.

 The study found that levels were significantly lower after the switch to chewing tobacco or the nicotine patch. Even more importantly, the nicotine patch had significantly lower levels than the chewing tobacco. The patch is a type of medicinal nicotine.

 The researchers concluded that lozenges, moist snuff, or chewing tobacco are safer than smoking cigarettes but are not good alternatives for people who want to quit smoking. The best aid for this purpose is the nicotine patch, which is much safer.

 “Smokeless tobacco products should not be considered an acceptable substitute for cigarette smoking, especially when relatively harmless medicinal nicotine products are available,” the researchers said.

 Unfortunately, smokeless tobacco is quite popular and is incorrectly believed to be a safe alternative for people who need their tobacco fix. In reality, there is evidence that smokeless tobacco does not help you quit smoking, but is, in fact, more likely to cause someone to take up smoking. Smokeless tobacco products are rarely a successful aid for kicking the habit.

 If you need help, switch to the patch or ask your doctor about other medicinal nicotine products that might work for you.




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