Chewing tobacco: Not a safe product

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

Chewing tobacco and other smokeless tobacco products may be perceived as safer than cigarettes or other smoked tobacco products because they aren't linked to lung cancer. And smokeless tobacco products are often promoted as a safer option. These products, however, result in some of the same risks as cigarettes, as well as additional health risks particularly associated with smokeless tobacco products. There are no harmless tobacco products.

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. Nicotine is absorbed through the soft tissues of the mouth and in some cases swallowed.

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

  • Chewing tobacco is packaged either as loose tobacco leaves; leaves compressed into a small, brick-like shape called a plug; or braids of leaves called a twist. A piece of tobacco is placed between the cheek and gum. The saliva that builds up in the mouth is either spit out or swallowed. Chewing tobacco, which may be flavored, is also called chew, spitting tobacco or spit.
  • Snuff is finely cut or ground tobacco that may be flavored. It's available in dry or moist forms and is packaged in tins or teabag-like pouches. A pinch of snuff is placed along the gumline, either behind the lip or between the gum and cheek. Using snuff is also called dipping. Dry snuff also can be sniffed into the nose.
  • Snus (pronounced snoos) is a smokeless, spitless, flavored tobacco product that originated in Sweden. It is sold loose or in teabag-like pouches. It's similar to snuff but is pasteurized during the manufacturing process to kill bacteria that can produce cancer-causing chemicals. The snus sold in Sweden is associated with lower risks of cancers linked to chewing tobaccos. However, because snus sold in the United States is not manufactured with the same regulations as the Swedish product, there is insufficient evidence to draw conclusions about U.S. products.
  • Dissolvable tobacco products are pieces of compressed powdered tobacco that are usually flavored. They dissolve in the mouth, requiring no spitting of tobacco juices. They are sold as orbs or lozenges that resemble hard candy; sticks about the size of a matchstick; or strips that are thin, flat sheets like a dissolvable breath strip. These products are not the same as the nicotine lozenges used to help people quit smoking.
Sept. 13, 2017 See more In-depth