Toxic and carcinogenic agents in dry and moist snuff

J Natl Cancer Inst. 1987 Dec;79(6):1281-6.


The oral use of snuff is causatively associated with cancer of the oral cavity. Since most epidemiologic studies to date relate to the long-term use of dry snuff, which has dominated the U.S. smokeless tobacco market in the past, the concentrations of several toxic and carcinogenic agents in the three most popular dry snuff brands have been compared with those in the five most popular moist snuff brands sold in the United States. All eight samples were analyzed for nitrate, alkaloids, polyphenols, volatile carbonyl compounds, lead, cadmium, selenium, and the carcinogenic compounds benzo[a]pyrene (CAS: 50-32-8), polonium-210 (CAS: 13981-52-7), volatile N-nitrosamines (VNAs), N-nitrosodiethanolamine (CAS: 1116-54-7), and the tobacco-specific N-nitrosamines (TSNAs). Most of the snuff brands were rich in nitrate (greater than or equal to 1.5%), total polyphenols (greater than 2%), and in nicotine (greater than or equal to 1.5%), which is the habituating factor in tobacco use. Concentrations of the VNAs were significantly above the permissible limits set for some food products; the concentrations of the TSNAs in both snuff types exceeded the levels of nitrosamines in other consumer products by at least two to three orders of magnitude. The extremely high levels of the TSNAs in snuff have remained unchanged during the last decade and present the major carcinogenic risk factor for the oral use of snuff. Polonium-210 contributes further to the carcinogenic risk associated with snuff. The chemical-analytical data presented in this study do not indicate marked differences in the carcinogenic potential of moist snuff compared to dry snuff.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acetone / analysis
  • Acrolein / analysis
  • Aldehydes / analysis*
  • Alkaloids / analysis
  • Carcinogens / analysis*
  • Metals / analysis
  • Nitrosamines / analysis*
  • Phenols / analysis
  • Plants, Toxic*
  • Tobacco / analysis*
  • Tobacco, Smokeless / analysis*
  • United States


  • Aldehydes
  • Alkaloids
  • Carcinogens
  • Metals
  • Nitrosamines
  • Phenols
  • Acetone
  • Acrolein