Smoking is a harmful habit. Smokeless tobacco products are just as bad. Rather than being inhaled, smokeless tobacco is consumed orally. Chewing tobacco and snuff are the two main forms.
Newer forms of smokeless tobacco include:
- snus, which is similar to snuff but does not require spitting
- tobacco lozenges
- dissolvable tobacco, which can come in flat sheets, toothpick-shaped sticks, or Tic-Tac-shaped pellets.
Why is it important to quit?
Smokeless tobacco contains nicotine, which is addictive. Nicotine changes the way you think and act. If you are addicted to nicotine, you crave the “buzz” you feel from using it. This is true for smokeless tobacco and smoking. The more you use nicotine, the higher the amount you have to take to get the “buzz” effect.
Smokeless tobacco use has short- and long-term effects on your health. Short-term effects include:
- bad breath
- teeth staining
- tooth decay
- receding gums
- mouth sores.
Over time, use can cause cancer. This is because smokeless tobacco contains 28 carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents. The most common types of cancer are mouth, tongue, cheek, gum, and esophageal (throat) cancer. Nicotine can raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It increases your risk of having a heart attack. Smokeless tobacco is a risk factor for countless other health conditions and related problems. If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, you should quit right away.
Path to improved health
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), certain groups of people are more likely to use smokeless tobacco. These groups include men, athletes, and people who live in rural areas. Smokeless tobacco is addictive, which makes it hard to quit. You actually get more nicotine in your bloodstream from smokeless tobacco than you do from cigarettes. This is one reason why quitting smokeless tobacco can be harder than quitting smoking.
Using smokeless tobacco is a developed habit for most people. You may use it in certain situations, such as social events or sporting games. Or you may use it when you’re around certain people. It can be hard to break these patterns of behavior. However, smokeless tobacco users have quit successfully, and so can you. Your family doctor can help you quit. The tips below can help as well.
Make a list
To help you commit, write down your reasons for wanting to quit. For example, quitting prevents possible health effects. It saves you money. It helps you set a good example for family and friends. Keep your personal list where you can see it each day. It will serve to motivate you along the way.
Mark the calendar
Once you decide to quit, set a date and stick to it. Choose a date 2 to 4 weeks from today. Quitting can be hard, so map out a plan that works for you. To start, identify the times and places you normally use smokeless tobacco. Then, plan to avoid these situations or have tobacco substitutes with you. Get rid of all your smokeless tobacco products before your quit date. It may help to cut back on the amount of chew or dip you use before that.
Your family, friends, and doctor can provide support. If possible, find a friend or family member to quit with. Studies have shown that people who quit with a partner are more successful. You also can ask your doctor to recommend a support group that can help you quit.
Things to consider
Talk to your doctor about whether nicotine gum or another nicotine replacement product is right for you. In general, people who benefit most from nicotine replacement include:
- people who use 3 or more tins or pouches a week
- people who use smokeless tobacco within 30 minutes of waking up
- people who swallow tobacco juice when they chew or dip.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend nicotine replacement theory. This can help you gradually cut back to quit. Options can include using a nicotine patch or gum. Tell your doctor about other health conditions you have.
What’s important is that you find a healthy substitute that you enjoy. You can use an oral substitute. Examples include sugarless gum, hard candy, or sunflower seeds. Eating beef jerky may imitate the texture of chew, but has more calories. DO NOT replace smokeless tobacco with smoking, or vice versa. You should quit using all tobacco products.
Many people use smokeless tobacco when they are bored. Choose an activity that takes your mind off of using it. You can go on a walk or call a friend.
It can be even harder to quit if you have or had alcohol abuse. Talk to your doctor and use resources to help you stop.
If you slip up on your plan to quit, it is okay. This is normal. However, this doesn’t mean you should fall back into your old routine. Instead, you should recommit and learn from your mistake. Think about what you can do to avoid that situation next time.
Once you reach reach your quitting goal, congratulate yourself. You’ve worked hard! Celebrate by using some of the money you would have spent on smokeless tobacco to buy yourself a present or do something that you enjoy.
Questions to ask your doctor
- How long should my plan to quit last?
- Should I go cold turkey, or quit gradually?
- Do you recommend nicotine replacement therapy? If so, what kind?
- Once I have quit, how can I stay tobacco- and nicotine-free?
National Cancer Institute’s Smoking Quitline, 1-877-44U QUIT (1-877-448-7848)
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.