The reemergence of smokeless tobacco

N Engl J Med. 1986 Apr 17;314(16):1020-7. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198604173141605.


Smokeless tobacco (snuff and chewing tobacco) is reemerging as a popular form of tobacco, particularly among male adolescents. In different regions of the United States, from 8 to 36 percent of male high-school students are regular users. The use of smokeless tobacco has been shown to cause oral-pharyngeal cancer. The strongest link is with cancers of the cheek and gum. White mucosal lesions (leukoplakia) are found in 18 to 64 percent of users, often at the site where the tobacco was held. Other associations have been suggested for cancers of the esophagus, larynx, and pancreas. Nitrosamines, found in high concentrations in smokeless tobacco, most likely have a role in its carcinogenicity. Other health problems include periodontal disease, acute elevations of blood pressure, and dependence. In early 1986, after action at the state level, Congress enacted a federal law requiring health-warning labels on packages of smokeless tobacco and a ban on electronic advertising. Other regulatory measures under consideration include raising state and federal excise taxes, tightening controls on advertising, and prohibiting sales to minors. In view of the recent growth of this problem, policy makers are taking the opportunity to intervene with preventive measures to protect a new generation of tobacco users.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / etiology
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Legislation as Topic
  • Leukoplakia, Oral / etiology
  • Male
  • Mouth Neoplasms / etiology
  • Nicotiana* / analysis
  • Nitrosamines / analysis
  • Periodontal Diseases / etiology
  • Pharyngeal Neoplasms / etiology
  • Plants, Toxic*
  • Product Labeling
  • Substance-Related Disorders
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / complications
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / prevention & control
  • Tobacco, Smokeless* / analysis
  • United States


  • Nitrosamines