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Cancer-causing chemicals found in smokeless tobacco products

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ET Health
12th February, 2019 11:46 IST
MUMBAI: When a joint team of researchers from Mumbai and University of Minnesota picked up 39 samples of eight smokeless tobacco products from Belapur, Nerul and Sanpada railway stations, they found wide variations among levels of highly addictive nicotine and potent cancer-causing chemicals among the samples.

The difference between the highest and lowest levels of tobacco-specific nitrosamines the most potent cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco was over 650-fold. The variation between the highest and lowest levels of nicotine among the products was 11-fold.

The study was presented at the National Conference on Tobacco or Health at Tata Memorial Hospital, Parel, over the weekend. One of the authors, Dr P C Gupta from Narotam Sekhsaria Foundation in Mumbai, said the study was to establish levels of nicotine and carcinogens in local smokeless tobacco, as no such information is available at present. “We wanted to look at the levels and variations between products, and we were shocked with the results,’’ he said.

India has the world’s highest burden of oral cancer, which is directly linked to tobacco, both smoking and smokeless varieties. Around 40% of all cancers among Indian men is in the oral cavity.

“Our study established there are no standards in manufacturing smokeless tobacco. We don’t know what we are chewing and how dangerous it is,’’ said Dr Gupta.

The study’s main author, Dr Irina Stepanov from University of Minnesota, said these products were being offered as safe options to cigarettes. “One of the khaini products had the most nitrosasmines among all tested products,’’ said Dr Stepanov. The khaini pouches had 41.4 microgram/gram of nitrosamines, as against 1-3mg/gm in smokeless tobacco products in US. “The product with the worst levels was being sold as a safe one,’’ Dr Stepanov added. The amount of free or unprotonated (or free) nicotine varied up to 300 times, said the joint research paper published in the Tobacco Regulatory Science medical journal a year back.

There is no safe level of the highly-addictive nicotine, said cancer surgeon, Prof Pankaj Chaturvedi, from Tata Memorial Hospital. “But there are no manufacturing standards, as this study showed. We need to confront manufacturers and get them to reduce the level of nicotine and carcinogens, which is possible,’’ he added.

The Indian government had in December inaugurated three tobacco-testing laboratories in Mumbai, Noida and Guwahati. “We have very little scientific data on the content of tobacco products, but these laboratories will over the next few years generate enough evidence to ensure the laws are followed,’’ said Union health ministry joint secretary Vikash Sheel.
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