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Health Information for Teens and Kids

Dangers of Smokeless Tobacco

What is smokeless tobacco?

Chewing tobacco, snuff, snus, and dissolvable tobacco in the shape of sticks, pellets, and strips are all types of tobacco products that are not smoked but used in other ways. All types of smokeless tobacco contain nicotine and chemicals known to cause cancer (carcinogens).

Chewing tobacco

Chewing tobacco comes in 3 forms: loose leaves, plugs, and twists or rolls of tobacco. A piece (plug, wad, or chew) of tobacco is placed between the cheek and gum. Users chew on it for several hours and spit out the tobacco juices and saliva as they build up.

Snuff and snus

Snuff and snus are ground tobacco. Moist snuff and snus are sold in cans or sachets (pouches that look like tea bags). Users put a pinch (dip, lipper, or quid) of moist snuff between the cheek or lip and gum. Sachets are placed between the cheek and gum. Dry snuff is a powdered form sold in cans. A pinch of dry snuff can be placed in the mouth or sniffed up the nose.

Other forms of smokeless tobacco

The newest forms of smokeless tobacco are finely ground dissolvable tobacco that is flavored and shaped into sticks, pellets, or strips. These forms melt in the users' mouth within 3 to 30 minutes, delivering nicotine. These new stick forms of smokeless tobacco contain 3 times more nicotine than an average cigarette.

Smokeless tobacco is addictive

Nicotine in smokeless tobacco is what gives users a buzz. It also makes it very hard to quit.

Every time smokeless tobacco is used, the body gets used to the nicotine and starts to crave it. Craving is one of the signs of addiction. Another sign of addiction is called tolerance. This is when the body adjusts to the amount of tobacco needed to get a buzz. With continued use, more and more tobacco is needed to get the same feeling.

Many smokeless tobacco users say it is harder to quit smokeless tobacco than cigarettes.

Smokeless tobacco is not safe

Some people believe smokeless tobacco is OK because it does not cause health problems from smoke and smoking. This does not make smokeless tobacco safe, however. Some smokeless tobacco delivers more nicotine than cigarettes, making addiction more likely. There are also direct effects of smokeless tobacco on the mouth.

Other harmful effects

Heart problems. The constant flow of nicotine into your body causes many side effects including increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and sometimes irregular heartbeats, which may increase risk for sudden death from a condition (ventricular arrhythmia) in which the heart does not beat properly.

Nicotine poisoning. The new forms of smokeless tobacco look like candy or breath strips, making them attractive to all ages, even children. While tobacco from a cigarette tastes bitter and unpleasant, the new forms are minty and flavorful, increasing their potential for poisoning.

Tips to quit

Trying to quit can be difficult, but it is not impossible. Here are some tips.

Early signs of oral cancer

Your chances of being cured are higher if oral cancer is found early. Check your mouth often, looking closely at the places where you hold the tobacco. See your doctor right away if you have any of the following:

Source: Smokeless Tobacco: What You Need to Know (Copyright © 2010 American Academy of Pediatrics)