Snuffing Out Smokeless Tobacco Use

IMAGE Want something to chew on? Do not let it be smokeless tobacco.Smokeless or spit tobacco comes in two forms: chewing tobacco andsnuff—both of which can increase your risk of cancer and serious oral healthproblems. Chewing tobacco can be found as leaf tobacco, whichis packaged in a pouch, or plug tobacco, which is in a brickform. Both are put between the cheek and gum for several hours andproduce a continuous nicotine high. Snuff, usuallysold in cans, is a powdered form of tobacco that is put between thelower lip and gum. A small amount will quickly releasenicotine into the bloodstream, producing a quick high.

The Bad and the Ugly

More Nicotine Than Cigarettes

Because smokeless tobacco puts more nicotine into the bloodstreamthan cigarettes, people who chew on a regular basis often find itharder to quit. When someone usessmokeless tobacco, the body adjusts to the amount of tobacconeeded to produce that high. Over time, moretobacco is needed to achieve the same feeling, which can lead to addiction.

Harmful Chemicals

It may be smokeless, but it is not harmless! In addition tonicotine, smokeless tobacco contains at least 28 knowncancer-causing chemicals. Here are just a few of the substancesfound in smokeless tobacco:
  • Lead
  • Arsenic
  • Cyanide
  • Benzene
  • Cadmium
  • Formaldehyde
  • Polonium 210—A radioactive element found in the tobacco fertilizer
  • Nitrosamines—A known cancer-causing agent

Physical and Social Concerns

Smokeless tobacco users put themselves at a high risk for manyserious health problems, such as:
  • Cancer of the mouth, which includes the lip, tongue, and cheek,and of the throat, which includes the pharynx, larynx, and esophagus—Surgery totreat cancer of the mouth, also called oral cancer, is disfiguring. Itsometimes involves removing parts of the face, cheek, tongue, orlip. Oral cancer can spread quickly to other parts of the body.
  • Tooth and gum disease—Smokeless tobacco permanentlydiscolors the teeth. It scratches the teeth and wears away the hardsurface or enamel. It can cause bad breath, cavities, gum recession,and tooth loss.
  • Leukoplakia—When smokeless tobacco irritates the mouth,it can cause precancerous changes in the mouth. They are marked bywhite, leathery patches, which can be different shapes and sizes.Anyone noticing these changes should see their doctorright away.
  • Nicotine dependence—The constant flow of nicotine inthe blood causes increased heart rate, blood pressure, and sometimesirregular heart beats. In addition, it causes the blood vessels toconstrict, which can lead to decreased athletic performance andreduced endurance levels.
Using smokeless tobacco also has a social consequence. There is nothing socially desirableabout bad breath, discolored teeth, and constantspitting. Smokeless tobacco users risk hurting their social liveswith this habit. Even worse, their appearance could be permanently changed due to treatment for cancer.

Danger Signals for Users

Anyone who uses smokeless tobacco or has used it in the past,should check regularly for early signs of oral cancer, such as:
  • A sore in the mouth that bleeds and does not heal
  • A lump or red or white patch that does not go away
  • A lump or thickening anywhere in the mouth or neck
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the tongue or thejaw
  • Feeling that something is in the throat
Tobacco users should be vigilant about seeing their dentist regularly to have their mouth checked for oral cancer. Theearlier the cancer is detected, the greater the chance for curingit.

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