What Are the Effects of Chewing Tobacco on Your Health?
You're probably familiar with the dangers of cigarette smoking, but chewing tobacco and snuff are other tobacco products that can have serious health effects, as well.
Learn more about the long-term effects of chewing tobacco and snuff, including oral cancer, and some tips on how to quit tobacco if you want to stop.
What is chewing tobacco and snuff?
Cigarettes are combustible products, which means that they need to be lit and smoked. Chewing tobacco and snuff are two types of smokeless (noncombustible) tobacco products.
Smokeless tobacco is chewed and also used by “placing the product between the gum and cheek or lip,” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Mouth tissues absorb the nicotine, and then the user “spits out (or swallows) the tobacco ‘juices.’”
Snuff, also called dipping tobacco, is described by the American Cancer Society as either moist or dry. Like chewing tobacco, also known as oral or spit tobacco, users keep moist snuff between their lower lip and gums.
Dry snuff is a powder that’s sniffed/inhaled up into the nose.
Chewing tobacco and snuff effects on your health
The American Lung Association lists five potential long-term effects of chewing tobacco:
- Cancer of the mouth, esophagus, pancreas
- Gum disease
- Tooth decay
- Tooth loss
- White (or gray) patches in the mouth (leukoplakia)
The long-term effects of chewing tobacco and snuff are detailed below.
There are 4,000 chemicals in smokeless tobacco products like chewing tobacco and snuff. Thirty of them have been linked to cancer, according to the FDA.
The longer you use smokeless tobacco, the more your gums could swell and recede. When the gums shrink, the teeth are in trouble.
Tooth decay and tooth loss
Tobacco contains a lot of sugar. Holding that sugar in your mouth can cause tooth decay and, eventually, tooth loss. The American Cancer Society also warns that teeth can get scratched and worn down.
If you have white or gray patches in your mouth that won’t go away, even when you try to scrape them off, it could be leukoplakia. Although leukoplakia is typically harmless, it can eventually show signs of cancer.
What are early signs of oral cancer?
Mayo Clinic names seven signs and symptoms of oral cancer (cancer of the mouth):
- Ear pain
- Growth, lump inside your mouth
- Loose teeth
- Mouth pain
- Difficult or painful swallowing
- Sores in your mouth or on your lip (that don't heal)
- White or red patches inside your mouth
If you have any signs or symptoms of oral cancer, speak to your doctor.
How to quit chewing tobacco and snuff
Going tobacco-free for good is easier than ever. There are many science-based tools on which you can rely. But the first and most important tool is your own will.
First, figure out why you want to quit tobacco, then focus on a plan. Write down your plan and make sure you include your quit date, the time when you will stop using all tobacco products.
- If you’re used to having something in your mouth, try chewing gum or sucking on lollipops.
- Try over-the-counter medicines. Talk to your pharmacist about the best option for your situation.
- Try prescription medicines. Talk to your doctor about the best option for your situation.
- Join a support group.
- Go to one-on-one meetings with a quit-smoking counselor. Access free information services through the Quit Now hotline: 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). You can also try the free QuitSTART app for your smartphone.
- Go to one-on-one counseling with a therapist. See your doctor for a recommendation.
Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor about resources both local and online.
American Lung Association: Key Facts About Smokeless Tobacco
American Cancer Society: Health Risks of Smokeless Tobacco
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Smokeless Tobacco Products, Including Dip, Snuff, Snus, and Chewing Tobacco
Mayo Clinic: Mouth Cancer