Want something to chew on? Do not let it be smokeless tobacco. Smokeless or spit tobacco comes in two forms: chewing tobacco and snuff—both of which can increase your risk of cancer and serious oral health problems.
Chewing tobacco can be found as leaf tobacco, which 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. Snuff, usually sold in cans, is a powdered form of tobacco that is put between the lower lip and gum. A very small amount will quickly release nicotine into the bloodstream, producing a quick high.
Because smokeless tobacco puts more nicotine into the bloodstream than cigarettes, people who chew on a regular basis often find it harder to quit. When someone uses smokeless tobacco, the body adjusts to the amount of tobacco needed to produce that high. Over time, more tobacco is needed to achieve the same feeling, which can lead to addiction.
It may be smokeless, but it is not 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:
Smokeless tobacco users put themselves at a high risk for many serious health problems, such as:
Using smokeless tobacco also has a social consequence. There is nothing socially desirable about bad breath, discolored teeth, and constant spitting. Smokeless tobacco users risk hurting their social lives with this habit. Even worse, their appearance could be permanently changed due to treatment for cancer.
Anyone who uses smokeless tobacco or has used it in the past, should check regularly for early signs of oral cancer, such as:
Tobacco users should be vigilant about seeing their dentist regularly to have their mouth checked for oral cancer. The earlier the cancer is detected, the greater the chance for curing it.
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 can help:
Fiore MC, Jaen CR, Baker TB, et al. Treating tobacco use and dependence. Clinical Practice Guideline. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2008.
Oral cancer facts. Oral Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.oralcancerfoundation.org/facts/. Accessed March 7, 2013.
Smokeless tobacco. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/Smokeless-Tobacco.cfm. Updated December 2010. Accessed March 7, 2013.
Smokeless tobacco: a guide for quitting. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research website. Available at: http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/SmokelessTobacco/SmokelessTobaccoAGuideforQuitting.htm. Updated August 2012. Accessed March 7, 2013.
Smokeless tobacco and cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/smokeless. Accessed March 7, 2013.
Tobacco use disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 19, 2013. Accessed March 7, 2013.
Last reviewed March 2013 by Brian Randall, MD
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 medical condition.
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