Man wearing a nicotine patch.

Smokeless Tobacco: How Much Do You Know?

Some people assume smokeless tobacco is less harmful than smoking or that it’s a good way to help you quit smoking. But a lot of what we think we know isn’t true.

It’s almost impossible to be unaware of the harmful effects of smoking nowadays. Numerous campaigns outline the harmful effects of smoking and what it does to our bodies. Many public places and private businesses now ban smoking completely.

But what about smokeless tobacco? How much do you know about it and the effects it has on your health? For many of us, the answer to these questions is, “not much.”

Some people assume smokeless tobacco is less harmful than smoking or that it’s a good way to help you quit smoking. But a lot of what we think we know isn’t true.

Find out more about smokeless tobacco, what effects it has on your health and what resources are available to help you quit.

What Is Smokeless Tobacco?

Smokeless tobacco comes in many forms. It’s tobacco that’s chewed, dipped, or sniffed as a powder instead of burned or inhaled by the user. Smokeless tobacco is known as chewing tobacco, chew, dipping tobacco, dip, spit, spitting tobacco or snus.

Most people chew or suck the tobacco in their mouth – placing the tobacco between the lip or cheek and gum – and then spit out the tobacco juices that build up.

Smokeless tobacco products contain nicotine, which is absorbed through the mouth tissues and into the body. People who use smokeless tobacco and people who smoke show similar levels of nicotine in their blood.

What Effect Does Smokeless Tobacco Have on My Health?

Smokeless tobacco is harmful to your health, and some of the effects are the same as smoking cigarettes. According to the Department of Defense (DoD) YOUCANQUIT2 campaign, these harmful effects can include:

  • Impaired night vision and hearing
  • Skin wrinkles
  • Poor wound healing
  • High blood pressure and heart rate
  • Impaired sexual performance and erectile dysfunction
  • Lowered fertility in women
  • Low birthweight and increased risk of premature birth when used during pregnancy
  • Dental problems, including gum disease, tooth decay, tooth loss, mouth sores, bad breath and stained teeth
  • White patches and sores in the mouth that can lead to cancer
  • Cancer of the mouth, tongue, esophagus and pancreas

What Are the Facts About Smokeless Tobacco?

The effects of smokeless tobacco aren’t as widely known as the effects of smoking, and many people have misconceptions about smokeless tobacco.Hands hold in hand a box of snus with nicotine. Here are some facts to help you understand the impact smokeless tobacco may have on your health:

For more myths vs. facts related to smokeless tobacco, check out this YouCanQUIT2 resource provided by the DoD.

What Resources Are Available to Help Me Quit?

Quitting, no matter how long you’ve been using smokeless tobacco, can provide a lot of health benefits. The benefits begin within minutes of the nicotine leaving your body and continue for years. You can reduce your blood pressure and heart rate within minutes and greatly reduce your risk for cancer within a few years of quitting. Here are some helpful suggestions and resources to get started:

  • Talk to your health care provider. Your Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care provider can provide counseling, recommend programs and discuss tobacco cessation products with you, such as medications, nicotine replacement therapies, and more.
  • Learn how to handle your cravings for using smokeless tobacco. Is there a set time you tend to use it – like after your morning cup of coffee? Or is it after you’ve had a tough night or a bout of insomnia? If you know when, where and why you use smokeless tobacco, you can put strategies in place to deal with the cravings.
  • Quit with a friend. It may be easier for you to quit if you have an accountability partner. You can encourage each other, check in each day and give each other a nicotine-free outlet when you’ve had a stressful day.
  • Understand your reasons for quitting. As with any goal you’re trying to achieve, understanding your reasons for doing it can be a great motivator. For example, is it for health reasons? If so, track your health-related successes. Have your blood pressure numbers improved? Have you felt more energetic? Or is it for financial reasons? If so, keep track of the money you’ve saved, or buy yourself something new as a result of your savings. Knowing why you’re doing it can help you stay on track when you get a craving.
  • Be prepared for the challenges. Smokefree.gov offers some tips related to the unique challenges of quitting smokeless tobacco, including understanding what your body might experience as you go through nicotine withdrawal, how to manage your desire to use smokeless tobacco and why it can seem so difficult to stop.
  • Be kind to yourself. Quitting is not easy. Nicotine is highly addictive and stopping can often take more than one try. If you fail the first time or begin using smokeless tobacco again, it doesn’t mean you have to give up or that you can’t quit the next time around.
  • Get the support you deserve. You don’t have to quit on your own. VA has several resources to help you quit smokeless tobacco, including the combination that offers you your best chance at quitting – behavioral counseling and cessation medication.
    • Counseling to make long-term changes to behavior so you can remove tobacco from your life and break emotional ties
    • Medication such as nicotine replacement therapy (like gum, patches) to relieve physical cravings that come with nicotine withdrawal
    • Support groups
  • Tap into available resources. VA offers a Veteran’s Guide for Quitting Smokeless Tobacco to help you evaluate how addicted you are, find your reasons for quitting, develop a plan, understand the medications, handle withdrawal symptoms and more. If you’re a smartphone user, you can access a texting program like Smokefree’s DipfreeTXT, which provides daily texts to support you as you quit tobacco or the free quitSTART mobile app which helps you quit smoking with tailored tips, inspiration and challenges.

Now that you’re armed with the facts and the resources you may need, make a good decision for your health and quit smokeless tobacco.

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