Guide to Quitting Smokeless Tobacco

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Getting help with the mental part of addiction to smokeless tobacco

Some people can quit without the help of others or the use of medicines. But for many tobacco users, it can be hard to break the social and emotional ties to chewing or dipping while getting over nicotine withdrawal symptoms at the same time. The good thing is, there are many sources of support out there.

Telephone-based help programs

All 50 states and the District of Columbia offer some type of free, telephone-based program that links callers with trained counselors. These specialists help plan a quit method that fits each person’s unique pattern of tobacco use. Help from a counselor can keep quitters from making many common mistakes that may make it harder to quit.

Many people find that telephone counseling is easier to use than some other support programs. You don’t have to leave home or get child care, and it’s available on nights and weekends.

Counselors suggest a combination of methods including local classes, self-help brochures, medicines, and/or a network of family and friends. Research has shown that telephone counseling helps people who are trying to quit smokeless tobacco.

Quit-tobacco programs and support groups

Joining a support group or taking classes for quitters can help, too. Many workplaces, hospitals, and wellness centers have programs, groups, or classes to help people quit tobacco. They may be led by professionals and focus on information and education, or they may be run by volunteers. Some programs may be set up like classes, while others focus on sharing by members of the group.

One long-standing peer help program is Nicotine Anonymous®, an open support group that offers a way to find others who are quitting tobacco. It also offers a long-term approach to quitting. (See the “To learn more” section for contact information.)

For those who cannot go to classes or support group meetings, there are online support systems as well as phone-based support. There are lots of options, and different types of groups work better for different people. Find one that works for you. See the section “To learn more” for online and phone programs. Check with your employer, health insurance company, or local hospital to find support groups that fit your needs. Or call us, your American Cancer Society, at 1-800-227-2345.

What to look for in a tobacco cessation program: Tobacco cessation or quit programs are set up to help users recognize and cope with problems that come up while quitting. This helps the ex-tobacco user avoid common pitfalls of quitting. The programs should also provide support and encouragement in staying tobacco-free. Many programs focus mainly on smokers, but most are open to smokeless tobacco users, too.

Studies have shown that the best programs include either one-on-one or group counseling. There’s a strong link between how often and how long counseling lasts (its intensity) and the success rate – overall, the more intense the program, the greater the chance of success.

Intensity may be increased by having more or longer sessions or by increasing the number of weeks over which the sessions are given. So when looking for a program, try to find one that has the following:

  • Each session lasts at least 15 to 30 minutes
  • There are at least 4 sessions
  • The program lasts at least 2 weeks – longer is usually better

Make sure the leader of the group is trained in tobacco cessation.

Some communities have a Nicotine Anonymous (NicA) group that holds regular meetings. This group applies the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) to tobacco addiction. This includes attending meetings and following the program. People new to NicA may choose a sponsor to help them through the steps and help them when they are tempted to use tobacco. These meetings are free, though donations are collected to cover expenses. NicA also has web and phone meetings, and offers online support.

Often your local American Cancer Society or local health department will sponsor quitting classes, too. Call us for more information.

Beware of tobacco cessation scams: Not all programs are honest in what they advertise, so be careful. Think twice about any programs that:

  • Promise instant, easy success with little to no effort on your part
  • Use shots (injections) or pills, especially “secret” ingredients
  • Advertise 100% success rate with no ill effects
  • Charge a very high fee – check with the Better Business Bureau if you have doubts
  • Will not give you references and phone numbers of people who have used the program

Support of family and friends

Many former tobacco users say a support network of family and friends was very important during their quit attempt. Other people who might be able to offer support and encouragement are your co-workers, family doctor, or dentist.

Don’t neglect this vital part of quitting. Surround yourself with other people who don’t use tobacco, and tell them about your plans to quit. Warn them that you might not be your usual self for a few days, and ask them to listen and encourage you when you need it. Talk with them about what you need – for instance, patience as you go through cravings, taking your late-night or early-morning phone calls, and plans for doing things where it’s harder to use tobacco. Suggest ways they can help, like going for a walk with you, helping you stay busy, and reminding you that you can do this. If they’ve quit, ask them how they did it and get some tips. Find out what you can count on each friend or family member to do.

If you have close friends who still use tobacco, ask them not to offer any to you. You’re not asking them to quit themselves, but you might not want to spend a lot of time with those who still use tobacco for the first few weeks after you quit. You could find it hard to be with them without being tempted. But if your plan happens to inspire someone to quit with you, you can help and support each other.


Last Medical Review: 02/20/2014
Last Revised: 02/20/2014