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Smokeless Tobacco

What Is Smokeless Tobacco?

Smokeless tobacco is better known as spit tobacco, chewing tobacco, chew, and dip. Users put tobacco leaves into their mouth and suck on them instead of smoking them in cigarettes.

Smokeless tobacco comes as either snuff or chewing tobacco:

  • Snuff is finer-grain tobacco that sometimes comes in pouches that look like teabags.
  • Chewing tobacco is larger-grain tobacco leaves that are twisted or shredded and come loose in paper packets or small cans.

Smokeless tobacco users place snuff or chewing tobacco between their inner cheek and gums on the lower part of their jaw and suck on the tobacco juices. Users spit often because the saliva builds up while tobacco is in their mouths. This sucking and chewing allows nicotine to get into the bloodstream through the gums, without the need to swallow the tobacco juices.

Why Do People Use Smokeless Tobacco?

Smokeless tobacco has been around for hundreds of years. It became more popular in the U.S. when baseball players in the 1970s began using it, thinking it was a safer alternative to smoking.

But nicotine is in all forms of tobacco. This chemical is so addictive that nicotine addiction often starts after the first use. People addicted to nicotine need more of it to get the same feeling as the first time. Many people still believe that smokeless tobacco is a safer alternative to smoking, but this isn't true. Using smokeless tobacco is as dangerous as smoking cigarettes, and can cause serious damage to the body.

Why Is Smokeless Tobacco Dangerous?

Serious health risks of smokeless tobacco include:

  • cracked/bleeding lips and gums
  • receding gums, which can eventually make teeth fall out
  • increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and irregular heartbeat
  • higher chances of heart attacks and strokes
  • cancer

Oral cancer (cancer of the mouth) is the cancer most often linked to smokeless tobacco use. But users also can get cancer in the stomach, the throat, and the bladder because the chemicals from the tobacco get into their digestive systems through their spit.

In the most severe cases, problems caused by smokeless tobacco can lead to permanent disfigurement, such as the loss of teeth and even bones in the face.

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

How Do I Quit Smokeless Tobacco?

If you use smokeless tobacco, these tips can help you quit:

  • Use nicotine gum or a nicotine patch, but only after talking to your doctor about which would work best for you.
  • Distract yourself with healthier activities. Try lifting weights, shooting baskets, swimming, biking, and other sports.
  • Talk to friends and family for support.

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 is hard, and using smokeless tobacco while trying to quit is 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: Sep 20, 2019

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