Chewing tobacco: Not a safe alternative to cigarettes

Get the facts about chewing tobacco and other forms of smokeless tobacco. They're more harmful and addictive than you might think. By Mayo Clinic Staff

You can call chewing tobacco by whatever name you want — smokeless tobacco, spit tobacco, chew, snuff, pinch or dip — but don't call it harmless. Whether you use chewing tobacco or other types of smokeless tobacco because you like it or because you think smokeless is safer than cigarettes, be forewarned — chewing tobacco can cause serious health problems.

Chewing tobacco and other forms of smokeless tobacco

Chewing tobacco is a common type of smokeless tobacco. Smokeless tobacco products consist of tobacco or a tobacco blend that's chewed, sucked on or sniffed, rather than smoked.

There are many types of smokeless tobacco products around the world. In the United States, the main types of smokeless tobacco are:

  • Snuff. This is finely ground or shredded tobacco leaves. It's available in dry or moist forms and is packaged in tins or tea bag-like pouches. A pinch of snuff is placed between the lower lip and gum or cheek and gum. Dry forms of snuff can be sniffed into the nose. Using snuff is also called dipping.
  • Chewing tobacco. This consists of loose tobacco leaves that are sweetened and packaged in pouches. You put a wad of the tobacco between your cheek and gum and hold it there, sometimes for hours at a time. It's also called chew and chaw. Usually you spit out the tobacco juices, but if you're more addicted, you may tend to swallow some of the juices.
  • Snus. Snus (pronounced snoos) is a newer smokeless, spitless tobacco product that originated in Sweden. It comes in a pouch that you stick between your upper lip and gum. You leave it there for about a half-hour without having to spit, then discard it.
  • Dissolvable tobacco. These are pieces of compressed powdered tobacco, similar to small hard candies. They dissolve in your mouth, requiring no spitting of tobacco juices. They're sometimes called tobacco lozenges, but they're not the same as the nicotine lozenges used to help you quit smoking.
  • Other products. In some parts of the country, smokeless tobacco also comes in the form of plugs and twists. Plugs are tobacco compressed into a brick shape, and twists are braided and twisted tobacco. You hold a piece between your cheek and gum, and spit out the tobacco juices.
Oct. 29, 2011 See more In-depth