Most popular snuff brands also have big nicotine doses

December 16, 2003

The most popular brands of smokeless tobacco also contain the highest amounts of nicotine that can be readily absorbed by the body, according to a new study.

Moist snuff brands that have the highest market share, like Skoal, Copenhagen and Kodiak, contained high amounts of unprotonated or "free-base" nicotine, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report in the December issue of Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

The most popular brand of loose-leaf smokeless tobacco, Levi Garrett, also had the highest levels of free-base nicotine, but the relationship between market share and nicotine content in loose-leaf tobacco was not as consistent as with moist snuff.

Smokeless tobacco products with a high percentage of free-base nicotine can be rapidly absorbed in the mouth, and speed is a "major determinant of addiction," says Patricia Richter, Ph.D. Some researchers suggest the amount of free-base nicotine in snuff and loose-leaf tobacco can be controlled by manipulating the product's pH levels.

Tobacco companies are required to report the amount of nicotine in their smokeless tobacco products to the CDC, but by law this information is kept confidential as a corporate trade secret. Separate from these reports, Richter and Francis Spierto, Ph.D., analyzed 18 brands of smokeless tobacco to determine their free-base nicotine content.

"The purpose of the study was to provide consumers, researchers and public health officials with information on these levels in popular smokeless tobacco brands," Richter explains.

Richter and Spierto sent 18 different brands of moist snuff and loose-leaf smokeless tobacco from five different companies for testing to a private and independent lab in Canada. Together the brands represent nearly 91 percent of the market share for moist snuff and 76 percent for loose-leaf chewing tobacco.

"Consumers need to know that smokeless tobacco products, including loose-leaf and moist snuff, are not safe alternatives to smoking," Richter says. "The amount of nicotine absorbed per dose from using smokeless tobacco is greater than the amount of nicotine absorbed from smoking one cigarette."

By Becky Ham, Science Writer
Health Behavior News Service
Health Behavior News Service: 202-387-2829 or
Interviews: Contact Patricia Richter at
Nicotine & Tobacco Research: Contact Gary E. Swan, Ph.D., at 650-859-5322.

This story is also available online at

Center for Advancing Health

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