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Smokeless Tobacco

What Is Smokeless Tobacco?

Smokeless tobacco is a tobacco product that's not burned so it doesn’t produce smoke. Instead it is chewed, sucked on, or even sniffed into the nose, allowing its juices to be absorbed into the body through the mouth or nose.

It comes in a variety of forms and has many different names:

  • Snuff is finely ground tobacco that can be dry or moist. Dry snuff is usually sniffed up the nose. Moist snuff, also called dip tobacco, is placed between the gums and cheek. Sometimes it comes in pouches that look like little teabags. Snus is a form of moist snuff.
  • Chewing tobacco is larger-grain tobacco leaves that look like tea leaves. It can come loose in paper packets or small cans, twisted into a rope form, or pressed together into a small brick shape called a plug. It can be chewed, or placed between the gums and cheek for sucking.
  • Dissolvable tobacco is finely ground tobacco that is pressed into shapes such as sticks, pellets, or strips. It melts in the mouth. It may contain sweet flavors and sometimes looks like candy.

People who use smokeless tobacco may swallow the tobacco juice or spit it out (it’s sometimes called spit tobacco). Either way, smokeless tobacco releases a lot of nicotine and other harmful chemicals into the bloodstream.

Why Do People Use Smokeless Tobacco?

Smokeless tobacco has been around for hundreds of years. Its use went down in the 20th century when cigarettes became popular, but rose again when U.S. baseball players in the 1970s began using it, thinking it was safer than smoking.

Many people still believe that using smokeless tobacco is safer than smoking, but that's not true. Using smokeless tobacco is as dangerous as smoking cigarettes and can seriously damage the body. But when people start using a tobacco product, it can be hard for them to stop. That's because all tobacco products contain nicotine, which is very addictive. Some types of smokeless tobacco contain more nicotine than cigarettes, so it can be even harder to quit using smokeless tobacco than to quit smoking.

Why Is Smokeless Tobacco Dangerous?

Serious health risks of smokeless tobacco include:

  • gum disease
  • tooth decay and tooth loss
  • heart problems, including increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and irregular heartbeat
  • higher chances of heart attacks and strokes
  • cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and pancreas

Smokeless tobacco also causes bad breath, yellowish-brown stains on the teeth, and mouth sores in most users.

Use of smokeless tobacco during pregnancy can cause the baby to be born early, or sometimes even be stillborn. It can also affect how the baby’s brain develops.

The dissolvable form of tobacco looks like candy and may even taste good. This can make it attractive to children who might swallow it and get nicotine poisoning.

How Do I Quit Smokeless Tobacco?

If you use smokeless tobacco, and want to quit:

  • Talk to your doctor about strategies that can help you quit, such as nicotine replacement therapy. 
  • Distract yourself with healthier activities. Try lifting weights, shooting baskets, swimming, biking, and other sports.
  • Talk to friends and family for support.

Quitting smokeless tobacco is just like quitting smoking. Find support online that can help with addiction to any tobacco products:

What Else Can Help?

Try these substitutes for smokeless tobacco while trying to quit:

  • tobacco-free mint leaf snuff
  • sugarless gum
  • hard candy
  • beef jerky
  • sunflower seeds
  • shredded coconut
  • raisins
  • dried fruit

Quitting any kind of tobacco use is hard, and slip-ups are common. But don't give up. Your chances of quitting get better each time you try!

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date Reviewed: Jan 1, 2024

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