Why should I quit?
There are many reasons to stick it out through withdrawal and quit using smokeless tobacco for good. Health reasons are the most obvious ones. Harmful health effects include:
- Mouth, tongue, and throat cancer
- Cancer in the esophagus (the swallowing tube that goes from your mouth to your stomach)
- Stomach cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Possible increase in risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke
- Addiction to nicotine
- Leukoplakia (white sores in the mouth that can become cancer)
- Receding gums (gums slowly shrink from around the teeth)
- Bone loss around the roots of the teeth
- Abrasion (scratching and wearing down) of teeth
- Tooth loss
- Stained and discolored teeth
- Bad breath
Leukoplakia is a white patch in the mouth that can become cancer. These are sometimes called sores but they are usually painless. Many studies have shown high rates of leukoplakia in the mouth where users place their chew or dip. One study found that nearly 3 of 4 of daily users of moist snuff and chewing tobacco had non-cancerous or pre-cancerous lesions (sores) in the mouth. The longer you use oral tobacco, the more likely you are to have leukoplakia.
Tobacco can irritate or destroy gum tissue. Many regular smokeless tobacco users have receding gums, gum disease, tooth decay (from the high sugar content in the tobacco), and bone loss around the teeth. The surface of the tooth root may be exposed where gums have shrunken. All this can cause teeth to loosen and fall out.
Smokeless tobacco may also play a role in heart disease and high blood pressure. Results from a large American Cancer Society study showed that men who switched from cigarettes to snuff or chewing tobacco had higher death rates from heart disease, stroke, cancer of the mouth and lung, and all causes of death combined than former smokers who stopped using all tobacco products. It’s unclear if the heart disease was caused by the smokeless tobacco products in this study.
Results of later studies have been mixed, with some showing a slight increase in heart disease among users of smokeless tobacco. Studies in Sweden found no increase in heart attacks, but snuff (snus) users were more likely to die from their heart attacks than non-users. More US studies are needed to identify outcomes related to use of smokeless tobacco.
The snuff and chewing tobacco products most widely used in the United States have very high levels of cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) called tobacco-specific nitrosamines. These carcinogens cause lung cancer in animals, even when injected into their blood. There are other kinds of cancer-causing agents in smokeless tobacco, such as benzo[a]pyrene and other polycyclic aromatic carcinogens.
How do the risks of using smokeless tobacco compare with cigarette smoking?
Looking at large numbers of people, smokeless tobacco products are less lethal than cigarettes: they kill fewer people on average than cigarettes. But smokeless tobacco hurts and kills people all the same. Even though smokeless products are marketed as a less harmful alternative to smoking, they can be deadly. And they have not been proven to help smokers quit.
Smokers who delay quitting by using smokeless products between cigarettes greatly increase their risk of lung cancer. They also set themselves up for new health problems caused by smokeless tobacco.
Other reasons to quit smokeless tobacco
Besides health reasons, here a few more to consider.
Chewing and dipping can carry a heavy social price, especially when dating. Bad breath, gum disease, and stained teeth are very unappealing. The spitting you have to do with most smokeless tobacco is not pretty, either.
Some employers now ban all types of tobacco on their premises. Others won’t hire people who use any form of tobacco.
A tobacco habit can cost a lot of money. It isn’t hard to figure out how much you spend on tobacco: multiply how much money you spend on tobacco every day by 365 (days a year). The amount might surprise you. Now multiply that by the number of years you have been using tobacco and the total will probably shock you.
Multiply the cost per year by 10 (for the next 10 years) and ask yourself what you would rather do with that much money. And this doesn’t include other possible costs, such health care costs due to tobacco-related problems.
Setting an example
If you have children in your life, you probably want to set a good example for them. When asked, nearly all smokeless tobacco users say they don’t want their children to chew or dip. You can become a better role model for them if you quit now.
Being a slave to the can or pouch
After long use, many smokeless users start to feel like their lives are being taken over by the can or the pouch. They don’t feel free to live as they’d like because of their tobacco habit. They clearly see how it limits them and causes problems in their lives.
Immediate rewards of quitting
Kicking the tobacco habit offers some benefits that you’ll notice right away and some that will develop over time. These rewards improve most peoples’ day-to-day lives a great deal. Here are just a few:
- Breath smells better
- No more tobacco stains on your face, teeth, or clothes
- Mouth starts to heal – you can eat spicy foods without the burn
- You don’t have to look for empty cans or bottles so you can spit
- Stop worrying that people will think less of you for dipping/chewing
- Kissing your spouse or partner before you brush your teeth
Last Medical Review: 10/18/2012
Last Revised: 10/29/2012