- Questions About Smoking, Tobacco, and Health
- Is smoking tobacco really addictive?
- Why do people start smoking?
- How many people use tobacco?
- What in tobacco smoke is harmful?
- Is secondhand (environmental) tobacco smoke dangerous?
- How does tobacco use affect the economy?
- What’s being done to protect people from the hazards of smoking?
- Are spit tobacco and snuff safe alternatives to smoking?
- What are the health risks of smoking pipes or cigars?
- What about electronic cigarettes? Aren’t they safe?
- Is dissolvable tobacco safe?
- What about more exotic forms of smoking tobacco, such as clove cigarettes, bidis, and hookahs?
- What can I do to help with any damage that may have been caused by smoking?
- Can quitting really help a lifelong smoker?
- How do people quit tobacco?
- To learn more
Are spit tobacco and snuff safe alternatives to smoking?
Many terms are used to describe tobacco that is put in the mouth, such as spit, oral, smokeless, chewing, and snuff tobacco. Using any kind of spit or smokeless tobacco is a major health risk. It is less lethal than smoking tobacco, but less lethal is a far cry from safe.
More nicotine is absorbed from spit tobacco than is absorbed from one cigarette. Overall, people who dip or chew get about the same amount of nicotine as regular smokers. The most harmful cancer-causing substances in spit tobacco are tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) which have been found at levels 100 times higher than the nitrosamines that are allowed in bacon, beer, and other foods. These carcinogens cause lung cancer in lab animals, even when injected rather than inhaled.
The juice from smokeless tobacco is absorbed directly through the lining of the mouth. This causes sores and white patches (called leukoplakia) that often lead to cancer of the mouth.
People who use spit and other types of smokeless tobacco greatly increase their risk of other cancers, including those of the mouth, pharynx (throat), esophagus (the swallowing tube that connects the mouth and the stomach), stomach, and pancreas. Other effects of using spit tobacco include chronic bad breath, stained teeth and fillings, gum disease, tooth decay, tooth loss, tooth abrasion, and loss of bone in the jaw. Users may also have problems with high blood pressure and may be at increased risk for heart disease.
To learn more, please read our document called Smokeless Tobacco.
What is snus? Is it safe?
Snus (sounds like “snoose”) is a type of moist snuff first used in Sweden. It’s often flavored with spices or fruit, and is usually packaged like small tea bags. It’s also sold loose, as a moist powder. Like snuff and other spit tobaccos, snus is held between the gum and mouth tissues where the juice is absorbed into the body.
Because it’s steam-heated rather than fermented, Swedish snus has fewer tobacco-specific nitrosamines that are known to cause cancer (see above). But this doesn’t mean snus is safe.
Snus users may have a higher risk of cancer of the pancreas than non-users. They also get sores or spots in the mouth (lesions) where the snus is held. It appears that snus users may have mouth cancer more often than non-users, though more studies need to be done to confirm this.
You can learn more about snus in Smokeless Tobacco.
Last Medical Review: 11/08/2012
Last Revised: 07/08/2013