Use of smokeless tobacco products is common worldwide, with increasing consumption in many countries. Although epidemiological data from the USA and Asia show a raised risk of oral cancer (overall relative risk 2·6 [95% CI 1·3-5·2]), these are not confirmed in northern European studies (1·0 [0·7-1·3]). Risks of oesophageal cancer (1·6 [1·1-2·3]) and pancreatic cancer (1·6 [1·1-2·2]) have also increased, as shown in northern European studies. Results on lung cancer have been inconsistent, with northern European studies suggesting no excess risk. In India and Sudan, more than 50% of oral cancers are attributable to smokeless tobacco products used in those countries, as are about 4% of oral cancers in US men and 20% of oesophageal and pancreatic cancers in Swedish men. Smokeless tobacco products are a major source of carcinogenic nitrosamines; biomarkers of exposure have been developed to quantify exposure as a framework for a carcinogenesis model in people. Animal carcinogenicity studies strongly support clinical results. Cancer risk of smokeless tobacco users is probably lower than that of smokers, but higher than that of non-tobacco users.