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Snuffing Out Smokeless Tobacco Use
The Bad and the Ugly
More Nicotine Than Cigarettes
- Polonium 210—A radioactive element found in the tobacco fertilizer
- Nitrosamines—A known cancer-causing agent
Physical and Social Concerns
- Cancer of the mouth, which includes the lip, tongue, and cheek, and of the throat, which includes the pharynx, larynx, and esophagus. Surgery to treat cancer of the mouth, also called oral cancer, is disfiguring. It sometimes involves removing parts of the face, cheek, tongue, or lip. Oral cancer can spread quickly to other parts of the body.
- Tooth and gum disease—Smokeless tobacco permanently discolors the teeth. It scratches the teeth and wears away the hard surface or enamel. It can cause bad breath, cavities, gum recession, and tooth loss.
- Leukoplakia—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 right away.
- Nicotine dependence—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.
Danger Signals for Users
- A sore in the mouth that bleeds and does not heal
- A lump or red or white patch that does not go away
- A lump or thickening anywhere in the mouth or neck
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the tongue or the jaw
- Feeling that something is in the throat
- Think of all the reasons you want to quit.—You may want a healthy lifestyle. You do not want cancer, bad breath, or stained teeth. Maybe you are 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 others who will support you. Throw out all your chewing tobacco and snuff.
- Do not give up!—If you have failed before, remember that it often takes several tries to give up tobacco.
- Seek advice.—Ask your doctor about nicotine chewing gum, cessation programs, and medications that block the effects of nicotine.
- Find alternatives to smokeless tobacco.—Try sugar-free gum or low calorie snacks such as popcorn, vegetables, and fruit.
- Stay busy.—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 computer.
- Reward yourself.—Give yourself positive reinforcement every day, if necessary. With the money you will be saving, you could treat yourself to a movie or buy something nice.
- Develop a plan that works for you.—Everyone is different. What works for someone else may not work for you. Experiment and see what does and does not work. Above all, set realistic goals and do not give up because of a setback.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
- Review Date: 02/2017
- Update Date: 02/23/2017