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Portland State University researchers find Smokeless Tobacco products with up to 700% more flavor additives than candy. 

James Pankow, , PSU Chemistry Professor

James Pankow, Chemistry Professor

“The bottom line for our paper is that the flavorant levels in the smokeless products are in general markedly higher than in popular wintergreen and menthol flavored tobacco products,” said Pankow. “Moreover, the amount of wintergreen flavorant could by itself pose serious health risks to some consumers.”

“Chronic salicylate toxicity can occur from long term exposure to moderate doses of salicylates, from common sources such as aspirin. An international guideline limits the daily ingestion of methyl salicylate when used as a flavorant, such as in candies, but Professor Pankow and his team have shown that certain smokeless tobacco products contain methyl salicylate far in excess of that amount. Tobacco companies already disregard many serious health hazards posed by the use of their products. Do they ignore the international safety limits and the risk of chronic salicylate poisoning out of ignorance, or out of cynicism and contempt for their customers? They should not be allowed to expose tobacco users to additional toxic risks from flavoring additives.”

"Flavored tobacco products are a major concern because they are sure to lure even more kids into tobacco use and addiction. These new products no doubt appeal to kids because of their candy-like forms and flavors. In spite of promises by the tobacco industry, smokeless tobacco products continue to be marketed in a wide variety of kid-friendly candy and fruit flavors.”

“Pankow and his collaborators provide compelling evidence that the tobacco industry continues its quest to manufacture terribly addictive and hazardous products that are particularly attractive to young people. By flavoring a product to mask its otherwise appallingly disgusting taste, these companies extend their reach into the marketplace to sustain and often grow their addicted consumer base thereby perpetuating their business of raining disease and death on those who in the end would choose to stop using these products could they readily do so.”

Portland State University Professor Jim Pankow's research into flavorants in smokeless tobacco has been published in the journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology. The article, “Levels of mint and wintergreen flavorants: Smokeless tobacco products vs. confectionary products,” concludes that the level of flavorants in brand name smokeless tobacco products are up to 700 percent higher than in some well-known candy products.

The paper discusses measurements of methyl salicylate (wintergreen) and menthol flavorants in a large number of smokeless tobacco products. “The bottom line for our paper is that the flavorant levels in the smokeless products are in general markedly higher than in popular wintergreen and menthol flavored tobacco products,” said Pankow. “Moreover, the amount of wintergreen flavorant could by itself pose serious health risks to some consumers.”

Tobacco Graph

Chemicals such as methyl salicylate are often used as flavorants by smokeless tobacco and candy manufacturers. Pankow's study notes that for a typical user of smokeless tobacco, the levels of wintergreen flavorant in numerous brands of smokeless tobacco lead to chemical consumption rates that exceed the maximum acceptable daily intake established by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Association (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Pankow began researching flavorants because of concern expressed within the public health community that adding flavorant compounds to smokeless tobacco products makes them more “candy like” and thus more appealing to youth. “I decided,” said 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.”

“At a committee hearing in the 1990's I asked the CEO's of the major tobacco companies if they believed nicotine was addictive. Before Congress and the American people they denied the addictiveness of their product. This report indicates that the tobacco companies are still up to their old tricks of deceiving the public by using smokeless tobacco flavorants to appeal to underage users. This study is an important addition to the scientific oversight of the tobacco industry and will be incredibly helpful in safeguarding the health of Americans.”

Pankow is a professor at Portland State University and a Fellow to the Center for Sustainable Processes and Practices. He has a joint appointment in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science and the Department of Chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, earned honors for his extraordinary contributions to the field of environmental chemistry, and his internationally regarded work in the behavior of air pollutants and aerosol particles in the earth's atmosphere. In 2009, he was elected to the prestigious U.S. National Academy of Engineering. His groundbreaking work, which is used in climate change research, also resulted in his receipt of the 1999 American Chemical Society Award for Creative Advances in Environmental Science and Technology, and, the 2005 Haagen-Smit Prize.

Pankow is also very interested in contaminants in the nation's water supplies, and is working on a five-year project from the U.S. Geological Survey on that topic. He is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed publications and four books. Pankow's academic training combined basic chemistry (B.A., SUNY, 1973) with engineering (Ph.D., Caltech, 1979).

This work was supported by the E.H. Cooley Family Fund for Critical Research of the Oregon Community Foundation, and through the support of R.M. Dowd, M.J. Dowd, P.J. Coughlin, K.F. Park, and S.T. Huff.