The Truth about Smokeless Tobacco

What is smokeless tobacco?

Smokeless tobacco is tobacco that is not burned. It is also known as chewing tobacco, oral tobacco, spit or spitting tobacco, dip, chew, and snuff.  Most people chew or suck (dip) the tobacco in their mouth and spit out the tobacco juices that build up, although “spitless” smokeless tobacco has also been developed. Nicotine in the tobacco is absorbed through the lining of the mouth.

What are the different types of smokeless tobacco?

Chewing Tobacco

Form: Loose Leaf
  Cured tobacco strips typically sweetened and packaged in foil pouches.

: Plug
Cured tobacco leaves pressed together into a cake or “plug” form and wrapped in tobacco leaf

Twist (or roll)
Description:  Cured tobacco leaves (often flavored) twisted together to resemble rope


Form: Moist 
Description: Cured and fermented tobacco processed into fine particles and often packaged in round cans

Description: Fire-cured tobacco processed into powder

Description: Moist snuff packaged in ready-to-use pouches that resemble small tea bags.

Are there harmful chemicals in smokeless tobacco?

Yes. There is no safe form of tobacco. At least 28 chemicals in smokeless tobacco have been found to cause cancer. The most harmful chemicals in smokeless tobacco are tobacco-specific nitrosamines, which are formed during the growing, curing, fermenting, and aging of tobacco. The level of tobacco-specific nitrosamines varies by product. Scientists have found that the nitrosamine level is directly related to the risk of cancer. In addition to a variety of nitrosamines, other cancer-causing substances in smokeless tobacco include polonium–210 (a radioactive element found in tobacco fertilizer) and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (also known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons).

What are the health risks of smokeless tobacco?

Smokeless tobacco contains cancer-causing agents (carcinogens). Cancersare most likely developed at the site where the tobacco is held in the mouth, but it may also include lips, tongue, cheek, and throat. It can also lead to oral cancer, gum disease, and nicotine addiction. Possible developing health conditions:

Leukemia-Smokeless tobacco users may develop a condition in which white spots form on the gums, inside the cheeks an sometimes on the tongue. It can be caused by irritation from the tobacco juice. The disorder can be considered pre-cancerous.

Heart Disease-The stimulating effects of nicotine, an organic compound made out of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen, and sometimes oxygen, increase the heart rate and blood pressure and may trigger irregular heartbeat.

Gum and tooth disease-Smokeless tobacco permanently discolors teeth, causes bad breath, and may contribute to tooth loss. Smokeless tobacco contains a lot of sugar which forms an acid that may eat away the tooth enamel, causing cavities and mouth sores. Receding gums lines may also result in the use of smokeless tobacco.

-Constant exposure to tobacco juice can cause cancer of the esophagus, pharynx, stomach, and pancreas. Smokeless tobacco users are at heightened risk for oral cancer. These cancers can form within five years of regular use.

Can a user get addicted to smokeless tobacco?

Yes. All tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco, contain nicotine, which is addictive. Users of smokeless tobacco and users of cigarettes have comparable levels of nicotine in the blood. In users of smokeless tobacco, nicotine is absorbed through the mouth tissues directly into the blood, where it goes to the brain. Even after the tobacco is removed from the mouth, nicotine continues to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Also, the nicotine stays in the blood longer for users of smokeless tobacco than for smokers. Adolescents who use smokeless tobacco are more likely to become cigarette smokers.

Is smokeless tobacco less harmful than smoking cigarettes?

Because all tobacco products are harmful and cause cancer, the use of all of these products should be strongly discouraged. There is no safe level of tobacco use. People who use any type of tobacco product should be urged to quit.