What is smokeless tobacco?
Smokeless tobacco comes in many forms, such as snuff, chewing tobacco, and snus.
- Snuff is finely ground tobacco sold in cans or pouches. Most of the time, snuff is used by putting a "pinch" or "dip" between the lower lip or cheek and the gum.
- Chewing tobacco is sold as loose leaves, plugs, or twists. It is chewed or placed between the cheek and the gum or teeth.
- Snus is tobacco in a small pouch that you put between your upper or lower gums and teeth. It appears to be safer than other forms of smokeless tobacco, but more study is needed to see if it is risk-free.
The nicotine in smokeless tobacco is absorbed through tissues in the mouth.
Why should you quit?
There are plenty of reasons to quit. Smokeless tobacco products are harmful. They are not risk-free alternatives to smoking. They're addictive. Although they are safer than cigarettes, they can cause serious health problems.
Using smokeless tobacco can lead to:
- White patches or red sores in your mouth, called leukoplakia. These can turn into mouth cancer (oral cancer) involving the lip, tongue, or cheek. In fact, you have a 50% greater risk of getting mouth cancer if you use smokeless tobacco, compared to people who don't use it.
- An increased risk for pancreatic cancer.
- Tooth loss and other dental problems.
- Gum disease. Your gums may pull away from your teeth and not grow back.
Quitting smokeless tobacco has benefits you can see. Your mouth sores will slowly start to go away. Your gums will begin to look healthier. Seeing these changes may motivate you to stay tobacco-free.
You probably have your own reasons to quit. Maybe you want to set a good example for your family. Or maybe you want to avoid other health problems. You might want to quit because you feel ashamed of your habit. Whatever the reason, make sure it is meaningful to you.
Why is it so hard to quit?
It's just as hard to quit smokeless tobacco as it is to quit smoking. Quitting tobacco is hard because your body craves the nicotine. Giving it up is more than just kicking a bad habit. Your body has to stop the cravings. That's why you may feel grouchy or restless or have a hard time concentrating for the first 2 to 3 weeks after you quit. For some people, these feelings can last several weeks. Nicotine gum, lozenges, patches, and other medicines can help reduce the cravings.
But it's not just the nicotine that makes it hard to quit. It's the habit of using smokeless tobacco. It's part of your daily routine. You enjoy it. You may use it to deal with stress. And when you quit, you have to give all that up (or at least find something to replace it).
Quitting chew or snuff isn't easy, but you can do it. Just thinking about quitting is the first step.
How can you quit smokeless tobacco?
Quitting smokeless tobacco is a lot like quitting smoking. Both cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products have nicotine and are addictive. And they are all tough to quit. The good news is that you don't have to do it alone.
Whether you're ready to quit today or just thinking about quitting, take a look at the topic Quitting Smoking. You can read stories from people who have quit smoking and identify your triggers and line up the support you need to quit for good.
Current as of: July 4, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Brian D. O'Brien MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
John Hughes MD - Psychiatry
Michael F. Bierer MD - Internal Medicine, Addiction Medicine