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Understanding Smokeless Tobacco 

Smokeless tobacco products are made from the tobacco plant. They are harmful to your body. Smokeless tobacco causes oral cancer, esophageal cancer, and pancreatic cancer. These products are not safer than other forms of tobacco. Tobacco is not safe in any form. 

What is smokeless tobacco?

Smokeless tobacco comes in 3 types. These are chewing tobacco, snuff, and dissolvables. Many of these products are flavored to make them more appealing. 

  • Snuff. This is the most widely used kind of smokeless tobacco. This finely ground tobacco can be dry or moist. The dry powder is sniffed. Moist snuff is put in the mouth between the gums and cheeks. Often packaged in round cans, it’s called dip. Snuff also includes snus. This is moist tobacco sold in small pouches. 

  • Chewing tobacco (chew). This is sold as loose leaves, plugs, or twists. A piece is pressed between the gums and cheek.

  • Dissolvables. These are tobacco that has been made into small shapes, such as lozenges or tablets. They are often sucked on until they melt. 

How is smokeless tobacco bad for you?

All tobacco products have dangerous chemicals. Tobacco use is not safe in any amount or in any form. 

All forms of tobacco have nicotine in them. Nicotine is very addictive. You can become physically and emotionally hooked on it. You may even crave it. In children, nicotine can harm the developing brain. 

Smokeless tobacco also has at least 30 harmful chemicals. The worst are tobacco-specific nitrosamines. These come from the way tobacco is processed. You may also be exposed to other chemicals such as lead and mercury. All of these have been linked to cancer. If you use smokeless tobacco, you are more at risk for cancer of the mouth, esophagus, and pancreas. 

Smokeless tobacco may also lead to other health problems. These include:

  • Heart disease and stroke

  • Small white patches in the mouth that can turn into cancer (leukoplakia)

  • Gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss

  • Stained teeth and bad breath

  • Early birth or miscarriage if used while pregnant  

How can you quit smokeless tobacco?

Quitting any form of tobacco can be hard to do. The nicotine can cause physical, mental, and emotional withdrawal symptoms. You may have headaches, depression, and trouble sleeping. You may feel anxious, angry, tired, or restless. You may also feel the need to put something in your mouth to replace the chew, dip, or other smokeless tobacco product.

If you want to quit, talk with your healthcare provider, pharmacist, or dentist. He or she can tell you about all your options. Many of the same methods people use to quit cigarettes may help you. You may want to try a support group, a tobacco cessation program, medicine, or nicotine replacement therapy. Many resources are also available through your smartphone. 

To learn more

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Kenny Turley PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2019
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