Smokeless Tobacco May Bring Microbial Health Risks

The consumption of smokeless tobacco products may be exposing users to different species of bacteria associated with a number of infections, a new study has found.

Although an estimated 8 million people in the United States use smokeless tobacco products, there has been a limited amount of research on the microbial content of these products, making it tough to understand the possible microbiological risks associated with their usage.

Published Friday in the American Society for Microbiology’s journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, the study aimed at profiling certain microbiological risks associated with these products. The authors of the paper found that bacteria like Bacillus licheniformis and Bacillus pumilus could lead to opportunistic infections and inflammation of the lungs.

“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,” the study’s co-author Steven Foley, a research microbiologist at U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) National Center for Toxicological Research, said in a press release.

These are not the only species of Bacillus that could be dangerous for users. Foley explained that even some Staphylococcus epidermidis and Staphylococcus hominis strains can potentially lead to formation of cancer-causing N-nitrosamines within the tobacco products by reducing nitrates to nitrites.

The probable cause for the adverse effects of smokeless products like snuff is the extended close contact with mucus membranes that is necessary for the nicotine to move into the bloodstream. This contact exposes people to the bacteria in the product, also putting them at the risk of developing gingivitis and other oral health issues. These conditions can further allow the bacteria to access the heart, causing users to develop heart valve infections.

The research was carried out with the aim of aiding the formulation of FDA’s policies regarding smokeless tobacco products and providing a solid foundation for further research in evaluating the microbial risks that come with using these products.

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