Quitting Smokeless Tobacco

Topic Overview

What is smokeless tobacco?

Smokeless tobacco comes in two forms: snuff and chewing tobacco.

  • Snuff is finely ground tobacco sold in cans or pouches. Most of the time, snuff is used by putting a "pinch" or "dip" between the lower lip or cheek and the gum. A newer type of snuff is called snus.
  • Chewing tobacco is sold as loose leaves, plugs, or twists. It is chewed or placed between the cheek and the gum or teeth.

The nicotine in snuff and chew is absorbed through tissues in the mouth.

Why should you quit?

There are plenty of reasons to quit. Snuff and chew are harmful. They are not risk-free alternatives to smoking. They're addictive. And they can cause serious health problems.

Using smokeless tobacco can lead to:

  • White patches or red sores in your mouth, called leukoplakia. These can turn into mouth cancer (oral cancer) involving the lip, tongue, or cheek. In fact, you have a 50% greater risk of getting mouth cancer if you use smokeless tobacco, compared to people who don't use it.
  • Tooth loss and other dental problems.
  • Gum disease . Your gums may pull away from your teeth and not grow back.

Quitting smokeless tobacco has benefits you can see. Your mouth sores will slowly start to go away. Your gums will begin to look healthier. Seeing these changes may motivate you to stay tobacco-free.

You probably have your own reasons to quit. Maybe you want to set a good example for your family. Or maybe you want to avoid other health problems. You might want to quit because you feel ashamed of your habit. Whatever the reason, make sure it is meaningful to you.

Why is it so hard to quit?

It's just as hard to quit smokeless tobacco as it is to quit smoking. Quitting tobacco is hard because your body craves the nicotine. Giving it up is more than just kicking a bad habit. Your body has to stop the cravings. That's why you may feel grouchy, restless, or sad for the first 2 to 3 weeks after you quit. For some people, these feelings can last several weeks. Nicotine gum, lozenges, patches, and other medicines can help reduce the cravings.

But it's not just the nicotine that makes it hard to quit. It's the habit of chewing and dipping. It's part of your daily routine. You enjoy it. You may use it to deal with stress. And when you quit, you have to give all that up (or at least find something to replace it).

Quitting chew or snuff isn't easy, but you can do it. Just thinking about quitting is the first step.

How can you quit smokeless tobacco?

Quitting smokeless tobacco is a lot like quitting smoking. Cigarettes, chew, and snuff all have nicotine and are addictive. And they are all tough to quit. The good news is that you don't have to do it alone.

Get ready. If you're ready to quit today, you can. Medicines and support can help you stay on track. If you're thinking about quitting, you don't have to stop right away. Set a date to quit. Give yourself time to get ready (but not too much time). Get rid of spit cups before you quit.

If you're dealing with a relapse, don't feel bad about yourself. A relapse just means that you need to try something different next time.

Click here to view an Actionset. Quitting smoking: Coping with cravings
Click here to view a Decision Point. Quitting smoking: Should I use medicine?

Get support. Tell your friends and family that you plan to quit, and ask them for their help. Ask them to listen and encourage you when you need it. If you have friends who have quit, ask them how they did it, and get some tips. You can also get help from:

  • Telephone "quitlines," such as 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669). These connect you to trained counselors who can help you make a plan for how to quit. A review of studies about smokeless tobacco use found that telephone counseling helped people who were trying to quit.
  • Stop-smoking programs. Call your health plan, your local hospital, or the American Lung Association to find out what programs are offered where you live. Although many programs focus on quitting smoking, they are open to smokeless tobacco users too. And they really can help you quit.
  • Online quit groups. Like quitlines, these are convenient for lots of people, since you can get help from home at nearly any hour.
  • Support groups, such as Nicotine Anonymous.
  • Doctors, nurses, or therapists for counseling.

This kind of support can help you change your habits. Think about whether any of these options appeal to you, and give one a try. If it's not for you, try something else.

For more help, see:

Click here to view an Actionset. Quitting smoking: Getting support.

For more help with quitting, see the topic Quitting Smoking.

Credits

Author Deborah Dakins
Editor Marianne Flagg
Associate Editor Michele Cronen
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer John Hughes, MD - Psychiatry
Last Updated October 8, 2009

Last Updated: October 8, 2009

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