Have you ever seen a professional baseball player, or even a teammate chewing and spitting in the dugout or on the field? Wonder what they were up to? Despite the lack of actual smoke, smokeless tobacco is just as bad for your health as cigarettes.
What is smokeless tobacco?
The most common types of smokeless tobacco in the US are chewing tobacco, "plug", "twist", "snuff", "snus", and dissolvable tobacco products. All of these products are made from tobacco leaves, but they can be used in different ways, have different packaging, and may have added flavoring.
- Chewing tobacco pouches hold loose, sweetened tobacco leaves.
- Plug is loose tobacco leaves that have been sweetened and pressed into a brick shape.
- Twist is loose, flavored tobacco leaves that have been braided and twisted into strands.
- Snuff is either dry or moist finely ground (or shredded) tobacco leaves that come in tins or pouches.
- Snus is a smokeless and spitless tobacco product that comes in a pouch.
- Dissolvable tobacco products look like hard candies and are made of compressed powdered tobacco.
How is smokeless tobacco used?
The various forms of smokeless tobacco are used in different ways.
Depending on the product, users may:
- Chew the tobacco and spit out the juice
- Chew the tobacco and swallow the juice
- Sniff it (dry tobacco) through their nose
- Let a dissolvable product disintegrate in their mouth
- Leave it in their mouth and then throw it out (snus)
Who uses it?
Smokeless tobacco isn't only used by baseball players. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), as many as 20% of high school age guys and 2% of high school age girls use smokeless tobacco. There are between 12 and 14 million people in the US who use it, and more than half of them started before they were 13 years old.
What can using smokeless tobacco do to me?
In the short term, you'll have:
- Bad breath
- Stains on your teeth
- Mouth sores
Over a longer period of time:
- Your body will become dependent on it
- Your lips may crack, and both your lips and gums may bleed
- Your gums may recede (pull back from the teeth), possibly leading to your teeth falling out
- Your heart rate and blood pressure will rise, and your heartbeat may become irregular. This can lead to a greater risk of a heart attack or stroke.
- Your risk of developing cancer of the mouth, lips, tongue, esophagus, stomach, and bladder goes way up. Only half the people diagnosed with mouth and throat cancer survive more than 5 years after being diagnosed.
Below are some additional reasons why using smokeless tobacco isn't a good habit:
- You can't get rid of the stains on your teeth by brushing them, and tobacco juice stains can also ruin your clothes and other fabrics.
- Other people (including girls or guys you might want to date) will probably find the smell of your breath unpleasant.
- It's expensive. A 2-can-a-week dip habit costs about $300 per year, and a pouch-a-day habit costs over $700 per year. Think about what you could do with the money you'd be saving - you could put it towards savings for college, a car, a vacation, etc.
What if I only chew once in a while? Can't I just stop whenever I want?
Many people don't realize they're addicted, and they think that they can quit using smokeless tobacco anytime they want. Unfortunately, nicotine (the drug in smokeless tobacco and cigarettes) is addictive. There is actually 3-4 times more nicotine in smokeless tobacco than in cigarettes. So even if you only chew once in a while, you're at risk of becoming addicted.
What can help me quit using smokeless tobacco?
- Tell your health care provider, family, friends, and coaches so that they can provide support.
- Ask anyone who uses smokeless tobacco not to use it around you or offer it to you.
- Try cutting down over a period of time rather than trying to stop "cold turkey", and then pick a final quit date.
- Check with your health care provider about whether using nicotine gum or a nicotine patch is an option for you.
- Try using substitutes such as tobacco-free mint leaf snuff, sugarless gum, hard candy, beef jerky, sunflower seeds, or dried fruit.
- Exercise - it will help you relax, curb cravings, and boost your energy.
- Eat regular, well-balanced meals. Hunger can be mistaken for a tobacco craving.
What else should I know about quitting?
Expect to have cravings when you first quit. However, the worst will be over after 2 weeks. Remember that quitting is hard. If you don't succeed on the first or second try, try again. The chances of success increase with each attempt.
If you're concerned about smokeless tobacco, here's a tip on how to bring it up with your health care provider: Do you know a good way to stop dipping?
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