Health risks of chewing tobacco and other forms of smokeless tobacco

While the available evidence shows that smokeless tobacco may be less dangerous than cigarettes are, long-term use of chewing tobacco and other smokeless tobacco products can cause serious health problems. That's because they can contain about 30 cancer-causing substances. Like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco also contains nicotine, which can cause you to become addicted.

Here's a look at some of the health problems related to smokeless tobacco:

  • Addiction. Because smokeless tobacco contains nicotine, you can get addicted, just as you can with cigarettes and other tobacco products. Your body may actually absorb as much nicotine from chewing tobacco or snuff as it does from cigarettes. Just as with smoking, withdrawal from smokeless tobacco causes signs and symptoms such as intense cravings, increased appetite, irritability and depressed mood.
  • Cancer. Your risk of certain types of cancer increases if you use chewing tobacco or other types of smokeless tobacco. This includes esophageal cancer and various types of oral cancer, including cancers of your mouth, throat, cheek, gums, lips and tongue. You also face increased risks related to pancreatic cancer and kidney cancer.
  • Cavities. Chewing tobacco and other forms of smokeless tobacco cause tooth decay. That's because chewing tobacco contains high amounts of sugar, which contributes to cavities. Chewing tobacco also contains coarse particles that can irritate your gums and scratch away at the enamel on your teeth, making your teeth more vulnerable to cavities.
  • Gum disease. The sugar and irritants in chewing tobacco and other forms of smokeless tobacco can cause your gums to pull away from your teeth in the area of your mouth where you place the chew. Over time you can develop gum disease, which can be severe enough to destroy the soft tissue and bone that support your teeth (periodontitis) and lead to tooth loss.
  • Heart disease. Smokeless tobacco increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Some evidence suggests that long-term use of smokeless tobacco increases your risk of dying of certain types of heart disease and stroke.
  • Precancerous mouth lesions. Smokeless tobacco increases your risk of developing small white patches called leukoplakia (loo-koh-PLAY-kee-uh) inside your mouth where the chew is most often placed. These mouth lesions are precancerous — meaning that the lesions could one day become cancer.

Quitting chewing tobacco and other forms of smokeless tobacco

If you use chewing tobacco or other forms of smokeless tobacco, quit. Now that you know the dangers associated with it, you have extra motivation to stop using smokeless tobacco. And if you're trying to stop using cigarettes, don't switch to smokeless tobacco instead. While smokeless tobacco may be safer than cigarettes, smokeless tobacco hasn't been shown to help you stop smoking. In fact, you may end up using both cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

To stop using any tobacco product, start by talking to your doctor. Or talk to a counselor by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669). Your doctor or counselor can guide you in creating a quit plan and choosing nicotine replacement products or medications to help ensure success.

Oct. 29, 2011 See more In-depth