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Tobacco-Specific Nitrosamines in Smokeless Tobacco

Smokeless Tobacco and Oral Cancer: A Review of the Risks and Determinants. Published in Critical Reviews in Oral Biology and Medicine, Volume 15, pages 252-263, September 2004. By Brad Rodu and Christer Jansson. (UAB TRF)

Historically, some scientists have attributed the risk of oral cancer from long-term SLT use to tobacco-specific N’-nitrosamines (TSNAs). However, over the last 20 years, manufacturers of smokeless products have altered their production methods to substantially reduce TSNA concentrations. This is clear from published research, most of which has dealt with moist snuff.

From 1981-83, Swedish moist snuff products had TSNA levels from 7 up to17 parts per million (ppm); thereafter, almost all products dropped to under 10 ppm. In contrast, American moist snuff products tested as high as 300 ppm early on, and demonstrated levels above 100 ppm as late as 1993. However, by the late 1990s, most U.S. products achieved TSNA levels below 20 ppm. Analyzed far less often, chewing tobacco showed a very low TSNA level of 3.5 in 1985, and 2.3 in 1989.

Rodu notes, “It appears that scientists lost interest in testing smokeless tobacco products at about the same time that TSNA levels declined, resulting in little recent data.” To fill this information gap, Jansson, a scientist at the Swedish National Food Administration (similar to the American FDA) analyzed TSNA levels in SLT products available to U.S. and Swedish consumers in 2003. The Rodu/Jansson article details, for the first time, TSNA levels in brand-name products. Almost all show levels below 10 ppm. Levels in chewing tobacco were very low, ranging from 2 to 5 ppm. Among moist snuff products, Swedish brands were consistently lowest, around 2 ppm. In comparison, traditional American moist snuff ranged from 7 to 12 ppm. American moist snuff products in pouches had TSNA levels lower than those found in loose form, from about 5 to 7 ppm. Three new smokeless products had very low levels – Exalt at 6 ppm, Revel at 2 ppm, and Ariva at less than 0.1 ppm.

“Clearly,” Rodu observed, “the level of TSNAs in most smokeless tobacco products today is very low, with moist snuff moving close to eliminating TSNAs altogether.”

Here is a listing of TSNA levels of popular smokeless tobacco products. All analyses were performed at the Swedish National Food Administration.

Tobacco-Specific Nitrosamines (TSNAs) in Popular Smokeless Tobacco Products

Tobacco Product

Total TSNAs (parts per million)

Modern Products







Oliver Twist, Tropical


Oliver Twist, Senior


Traditional Swedish Moist Snuff





Catch Licorice


Goteborgs Rape




Traditional American Moist Snuff

Skoal Straight Long Cut


Skoal Bandits Straight


Skoal Wintergreen




Copenhagen Pouches


Hawken Wintergreen


Kodiak Wintergreen


Traditional American Chewing Tobacco

Beech Nut


Red Man


This research was supported by the Tobacco Research Fund (UAB).

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