September 13th, 2010
05:11 PM ET

American Heart Association: Smokeless tobacco increases risks

Smokeless tobacco products are not safe alternatives to smoking and could increase not only the risk of certain cancers , but also the risk of fatal heart attacks or strokes, according to the American Heart Association

Products like snuff and chewing tobacco can be addictive and increase the risk of relapse for those who have already quit smoking, said the AHA said in a policy statement release Monday."No tobacco product is safe to consume," said Mariann Piano, lead writer of the statement and a professor in the Department of Biobehavioral Health Science at the University of Illinois, Chicago. "Smokeless tobacco products are harmful and addictive - that does not translate to a better alternative." 

A recent study in the United States found smoking rates didn't drop among people who used smokeless tobacco products, causing concern that smokers may use both cigarettes and smokeless products, according to the AHA.   

If you're trying to kick the habit, studies have found that nicotine replacement therapy–products including gum or patches– is a safer alternative and had no increased cardiovascular risk. 

Smokeless tobacco contains 28 known carcinogens and increases your risk of both oral and pancreatic cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  It's also associated with gum disease and tooth decay and in men, it can cause reduced sperm count and abnormal sperm cells, the CDC reports. 

Smokeless tobacco products come in a variety of forms and are made from finely ground, shredded or powdered tobacco. The AHA estimates about 7 percent of U.S. adults use these products, 8 percent of high school students and nearly 3 percent of middle schoolers currently use smokeless tobacco. 

Steve Callahan, a spokesperson for Altria, the parent company of US Smokeless Tobacco Company and Philip Morris USA declined comment on the specific policy but said "Altria and it's operating companies supported federal regulation of tobacco for over 8 years. We believe that the FDA is really the appropriate authority to make the science and evidenced based determinations about tobacco products that are potentially less harmful than cigarettes."

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.