Want something to chew on? Don't let it be smokeless tobacco!
Smokeless or spit tobacco comes in two forms: chewing tobacco and
snuff—both of which can cause
and serious oral health
can be found as
is packaged in a pouch, or
plug tobacco, which is in a brick
form. Both are put between the cheek and gum for several hours, and
produce a continuous nicotine high in users.
sold in cans, is a powdered form of tobacco that's put between the
lower lip and gum. A very small amount will quickly release
nicotine into the bloodstream, producing a quick high.
The Bad and the Ugly
More Nicotine Than Cigarettes
Because smokeless tobacco puts more
into the bloodstream
than cigarettes, people who chew on a regular basis often find it
than cigarette smoking. In fact, an average sized
"dip" that's held in the mouth for 30 minutes releases as much
nicotine as smoking two or three cigarettes. When someone uses
smokeless tobacco, his or her body adjusts to the amount of tobacco
needed to produce that high. Then he or she needs a little more
tobacco to achieve the same feeling and ends up addicted.
Using smokeless tobacco is not a good way to quit smoking cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco has many of the same toxic chemicals as tobacco in cigarettes.
It may be smokeless, but it isn't harmless! In addition to
nicotine, smokeless tobacco contains at least 28 known
cancer-causing chemicals. Here are just a few of the substances
found in smokeless tobacco:
Lead (nerve poison)
Polonium 210 (nuclear waste)
Cadmium (in car batteries)
Formaldehyde (used for embalming)
Physical and Social Concerns
Smokeless tobacco users put themselves at a high risk for many
serious and visible health problems such as:
Cancer of the mouth (the lip, tongue, and cheek)
and of the
(the pharynx, larynx, and esophagus). Surgery to
treat cancer of the mouth (oral cancer) is disfiguring and
sometimes involves removing parts of the face, cheek, tongue, or
lip. Oral cancer can spread quickly to other parts of the body. The
average oral cancer patient lives only five years after
Tooth and gum disease.
Smokeless tobacco permanently
discolors the teeth. It scratches the teeth and wears away the hard
surface or enamel. It causes bad breath,
, gum recession,
and tooth loss.
When smokeless tobacco irritates the mouth,
it can cause precancerous changes in the mouth. They are marked by
white, leathery patches, which can be different shapes and sizes.
Anyone noticing these changes should see their doctor
The constant flow of nicotine in
the blood causes increased heart rate, blood pressure, and sometimes
irregular heart beats. In addition, it causes the blood vessels to
constrict, which can lead to decreased athletic performance and
reduced endurance levels.
There's nothing socially desirable
about bad breath, gunk-filled and discolored teeth, and constant
spitting. Smokeless tobacco users risk hurting their social lives
with this habit. Even worse, their appearance could be permanently
altered with surgery for oral cancer.
Danger Signals for Users
Anyone who uses smokeless tobacco (or has used it in the past),
should check regularly for early signs of oral cancer:
A sore in the mouth that bleeds and doesn't heal
A lump or red or white patch that doesn't go away
A lump or thickening anywhere in the mouth or neck
Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the tongue or the
Feeling that something is in the throat
Tobacco users should be vigilant about seeing their dentist
every few months to have their mouth checked for oral cancer. The
earlier the cancer is detected, the greater the chance for curing
It may be difficult to quit using smokeless tobacco, but many
people succeed at it. If you want to quit, here are some tips that
Think of all the reasons you want to quit.
want a healthy lifestyle. You don't want cancer, bad breath, or
stained teeth. Maybe you're concerned about how the habit may be
offensive to others.
Look for support from others.
Join a support group or
tobacco cessation class. Ask your friends, family, teachers, and
healthcare providers for encouragement and support.
Pick a quit date.
Put it on your calendar, and tell
your plans to supportive others. Throw out all your chewing tobacco
Don't give up!
If you've failed before, remember that
it often takes several tries to give up tobacco.
Ask your doctor about
nicotine chewing gum and cessation programs.
Find alternatives to smokeless tobacco.
gum or low calorie snacks such as popcorn, vegetables, and
Hobbies and other activities can help you
keep your mind off chewing. Exercise to relieve
tension, listen to music, talk to friends, or do some research on your
Give yourself positive
reinforcement every day, if necessary. With the money you'll be
saving, you could treat yourself to a movie or buy something
Develop a plan that works for you.
different, and what works for someone else may not work for you.
Experiment and see what does and doesn't work. Above all, set
realistic goals and don't give up because of a setback or two.
Fiore MC, Jaen CR, Baker TB, et al. Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence: 2008 Update. Clinical Practice Guideline. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Public Health Service. May 2008.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a