The new gum, produced by Finnish company Biohit Oyj, underlines the increasing use of the confection as a vehicle for health-giving properties.
It has been estimated that in developed countries, up to 80 per cent of the cancers of mouth, pharynx and oesophagus are caused by smoking and alcohol drinking.
According to the Finnish researchers, these epidemiological findings can in part be explained by the fact that alcohol drinking and smoking result in a strong local exposure of the upper digestive tract to acetaldehyde.
They have proved that acetaldehyde exposure can be markedly prevented by a tablet that releases an amino acid called l-cysteine. This amino acid is able to bind effectively to the acetaldehyde and thereby eliminate its toxicity
This assertion builds on research carried out by professor Mikko Salaspuro from the University of Helsinki in the 1990s. Salaspuro hypothesised that microbes representing normal human digestive tract flora produce locally acetaldehyde from ethanol.
He suggested that this might expose them to an increased risk of digestive tract cancers.
This hypothesis has been strongly supported by Japanese studies showing that digestive tract cancer risk is markedly increased in Japanese drinkers, who have a decreased ability to remove acetaldehyde because of a gene mutation.
On this basis of this evidence, professor Salaspuro and professor Martti Marvola, also of the University of Helsinki, started to develop l-cysteine containing and acetaldehyde eliminating preparations that could eventually be used for the prevention of digestive tract cancers.
The methods developed by Salaspuro and Marvola have now been patented, and the owner of the patents is Finnish company Biohit Oyj. The first commercial product based on this patented method is l-cysteine containing chewing gum, which was launched on the market at the 11th International Congress of Oral Cancer on 14 to 17 May in Italy.
"We know that with this chewing gum it is possible to eliminate acetaldehyde totally from the saliva during smoking," said Salaspuro.
"We do hope that this will in the future turn out to be a novel method for the prevention of alcohol and tobacco smoking associated oral cancers. However, long term randomised controlled trials are naturally needed before the possible cancer preventive effects can be proved."
The goal now is to develop new products that slowly release cysteine in different parts of the gastrointestinal tract.