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Expert Alert

U of M researchers look to reduce toxin exposure for tobacco users

May 31, 2012

Health advocates have long looked for ways to lower the risks associated with tobacco use. Now, as part of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been granted authority to set standards for tobacco products.  The FDA is now able set limits on nicotine and toxin levels in tobacco products sold in the United States.

Research at the University of Minnesota has focused on why this provision in the Act is important.

An expert on tobacco-related issues at the University of Minnesota is Dorothy Hatsukami, Ph.D., a Forster Family Professor in Cancer Prevention.

“We see a tremendous variability in the levels of cancer causing agents in both cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products sold in the United States. For example, we found some of the most popular brands of smokeless tobacco contain the highest amounts of cancer-causing agents, almost 3.5 times higher than other smokeless tobacco products,” said Hatsukami.

Other research at the University has found that greater exposure to these cancer-causing agents leads to greater risk for cancer. Hatsukami believes consumers have a right to know the type and amount of toxins in the tobacco product they use. She says, “Many are not aware there are substantial differences in the amount of toxins in their products. More importantly, there should be limits on these toxins, which is easily achievable by changing manufacturing processes.”

Hatsukami and a team of researchers have been granted $2.5 million dollars over 5 years by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to conduct a study supporting the decision-making process if the FDA decides to establish limits on harmful contents in tobacco. The group is a partnership between the University of Minnesota and the Oregon Research Institute. They will focus on smokeless tobacco and the best way to reduce exposure to harmful components in smokeless tobacco.

The study is now enrolling participants who currently use smokeless tobacco. Participants will be switched to a different product than their preferred brand. All of the products being used for the study are already on the market, but participants won’t know which one they are using.

The smokeless tobacco products being used in the study will have significantly lower cancer-causing agents compared to the most popular brands on the market, and will also vary in other contents within the tobacco.

“We are interested to see how switching smokeless tobacco users from their usual brand to these tobacco products will affect how much they use the product, the amount of exposure to cancer-causing agents, as well as the effect on cardiac risk factors,” said Hatsukami.

The study is now underway. Current users of smokeless tobacco are encouraged to contact Katie Schiller, Ph.D., to see if they qualify. She is reachable by email at or by telephone at (612) 624-4983.

To schedule an interview with Hatsukami, please contact Caroline Marin, (612) 624-5680 or email

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Tags: Academic Health Center

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