'Dissolvable' tobacco products have oral risks

Dissolvable tobacco products developed as "pop-into-the-mouth" replacements for cigarettes have the potential to cause oral diseases and other problems, according to a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (March 23, 2011, Vol. 59:6, pp 2745-2751).

The first dissolvable tobacco products went on sale in 2009 in test markets in Indianapolis; Columbus, OH; and Portland, OR, according to John Goodpaster, PhD, and colleagues from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. The products contain finely ground tobacco and other ingredients processed into pellet, stick, and strip forms that are advertised as smoke- and spit-free.

Health officials are concerned about whether the products, which dissolve inside the mouth near the lips and gums, are in fact a safer alternative to cigarette smoking, the researchers noted. For example, children could be accidentally poisoned by the nicotine in these products.

"The packaging and design of the dissolvables may also appeal to children, and some dissolvables, such as Orbs, may be mistaken for candy," the authors wrote.

The researchers found that the products contain mainly nicotine and a variety of flavoring ingredients, sweeteners, and binders, all of which can adversely affect teeth and periodontal tissue. Other ingredients in dissolvables have the potential to increase the risk of caries, and one, coumarin, has been banned as a flavoring agent in food because of its link to a risk of liver damage.

"The results presented here are the first to reveal the complexity of dissolvable tobacco products and may be used to assess potential health effects," stated Goodpaster, noting that it is "therefore important to understand some of the potential toxicological effects of some of the ingredients of these products."

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