SOME BRAND-NAME smokeless tobaccos are seven times more minty than candy, making them appealing to adolescents while also posing a health risk for some users. These are the findings of Portland State professor Jim Pankow, whose study was published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, a leading scholarly journal.
Pankow, a professor of chemistry and civil engineering, began his research after hearing concerns from public health professionals that adding flavorings to smokeless tobacco products makes them more "candy like" and thus more appealing to youth.
"I decided," says Pankow, "that someone should make some direct comparisons between the levels of such flavorant compounds in major smokeless tobacco products and popular brand-name candy products. Moreover, the amount of wintergreen flavorant (methyl salicylate) could by itself pose serious health risks to some consumers."
Pankow's and others' suspicions may be confirmed in a 2009 survey sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The survey found smokeless products gaining popularity with 10th- and 12th-graders. In addition, the levels of wintergreen flavoring in numerous brands of smokeless tobacco exceed the maximum acceptable daily intake established by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Association and the World Health Organization.
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden recalls attending a committee hearing in the 1990s where he asked CEOs of the major tobacco companies if they believed nicotine was addictive. "Before Congress and the American people they denied the addictiveness of their product. Professor Pankow's report indicates that the tobacco companies are still up to their old tricks of deceiving the public by using flavorings in smokeless tobacco to appeal to underage users."