It’s no secret that tobacco products of all kinds come with certain health risks – most notably cancer. But researchers have found additional dangers associated with smokeless tobacco products, which include substances ranging from chewing tobacco to dissolvable pills and gums.
They say that these tobacco delivery methods also carry bacteria that can cause infection and lead to illness. And, as with most kinds of bacteria or pathogens, prolonged exposure increases the risk to the person using these products.
“Some species have been identified as causative agents in spice-related outbreaks of diarrhea and vomiting. Additionally, they produce a mild toxin which, in large quantities could cause illness,” said Steven Foley, coauthor of the study.
The researchers found several bacteria that could be a cause for concern among consumers. Bacteria from the Bacillus species are known to cause the intestinal discomfort described above by Foley, but other bacteria from the Stapphylococcus species could be even more troubling.
These bacteria, which include Stapphylococcus epidermidis and Staphylococcus hominus, could turn nitrates found in the body into nitrities, which could lead to potentially carcinogenic formations.
Part of the reason that these bacteria are able to pose so much danger to people is due to the way in which smokeless tobacco products are consumed. Those using the products tend to hold them in their mouth for long periods of time so that the nicotine can enter the bloodstream. This increases the amount of time that consumers are exposed to bacteria.
The practice is especially dangerous to those who have developed gingivitis or other oral health issues, which can be common for smokeless tobacco users. Researchers say that some of the bacteria present in these products can easily enter the bloodstream in these consumers and cause dangerous heart valve infections.
Informing policy decisions
Up to this point, not much data had been collected on the microbial threats present in smokeless tobacco products. The researchers hope that their work will help the U.S. Food and Drug Administration form policies around the production and distribution of these substances so that consumers can avoid some of the dangerous health risks.