Novel smokeless tobacco products have been marketed as a way for smokers to cut back on the negative effects of tobacco, while still being able to use it. But is that really the case?

Melissa Blank, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at West Virginia University, is investigating whether smokers are using smokeless tobacco products in place of cigarettes, or as a supplement to them.

To support this research, Blank was awarded a federal grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

“If we find out that smokers are in fact using these products to help replace a significant portion of their cigarettes, then it might be in our best interest to continue to market these products in that manner,” Blank said.

“But if we end up finding out that smokers are really just supplementing—they’re actually exposing themselves to more nicotine and tobacco then they normally would have if they’re only using their cigarettes—then the FDA can use that information in terms of regulating how these products are marketed to smokers.”

Blank is focusing on smokers’ use of not only traditional (dip, snuff, chew), but also novel (pouches, lozenges, etc.), smokeless tobacco products.

For example, snus tobacco pouches originated in Sweden and are now marketed in the U.S. for use in situations where smokers cannot use cigarettes.

These smokeless tobacco pouches do not require spitting and may expose users to fewer harmful chemicals than cigarettes. Thus, smokers may engage in snus use to circumvent indoor smoking restrictions and/or to reduce the harms of cigarette use.

According to a study conducted in 2012 by the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28.2 percent of adults in West Virginia have self-identified as current cigarette/smokeless tobacco users. This number, Blank said, exceeds the per-state average in the United States.

To characterize the patterns of dual tobacco use, Blank will give cigarette smokers who use smokeless tobacco a device that allows them to record their use of all products daily.

The device will allow volunteers to give details about the setting in which they use a product, including the area, number of people around them and what they were doing during use.

Blank will also have the volunteers collect saliva samples during the study to compare smokers’ exposure to chemicals when they smoke only cigarettes, to when they smoke cigarettes and use smokeless tobacco in the same day.

Blank joined the WVU faculty in 2012, and serves as a co-leader of the tobacco research program for the West Virginia Prevention Research Center, housed within the WVU School of Public Health.

The research center, directed by Geri Dino and Lesley Cottrell, was recently awarded $750,000 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct disease prevention research in West Virginia.

For more information, contact Melissa Blank at (304) 293-8341 or



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