Smokeless Tobacco FAQ: 5 Frequently Asked Questions

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Watch any baseball team at game time, and chances are you’ll see players
using smokeless tobacco. How do you recognize them? Look for a large lump on
their cheeks, and watch them continually spit on the ground to rid their mouths
of the excess saliva. Sound pleasant? Probably not!

Here are some questions and answers about smokeless tobacco:

Q. What Is Smokeless Tobacco?

A. Chewing tobacco and snuff are the two main types of smokeless
tobacco. Chewing tobacco usually comes in leaves or plugs that users put in
their cheek pouches and then chew. Snuff is finely ground tobacco that users
put between their gums and cheeks.

Many people believe that smokeless tobacco is not dangerous, but that is not
true. Smokeless tobacco has many bad side effects and serious health risks,
including cancer and even death.

Q Is Smokeless Tobacco Addictive?

A. Yes. Like cigarettes, chewing tobacco and snuff contain nicotine –
a highly addictive drug. Because the nicotine is absorbed into the bloodstream
from the mouth, it takes longer to reach the brain. Smokeless tobacco users do
not feel the effects of the nicotine as fast as cigarette users do. But about
the same amount of nicotine enters their bloodstreams.

Nicotine works by making the brain release adrenaline-like compounds(such as
norepinephrine). These “excitatory” neurotransmitters get your body revved up.
(You have probably heard the term “get your adrenaline pumping.”) Many people
enjoy this feeling, but not the feeling that comes after it. After the nicotine
is gone, and the brain stops releasing the positive neurotransmitters,
smokeless tobacco users feel tired, depressed, and down.

Nicotine also causes the brain to release a chemical called dopamine. Other
very addictive drugs like cocaine make the brain release
dopamine, too. Even though dopamine makes you feel very good, drugs that make
the brain release it are highly addictive.

About 35 million tobacco users try to quit every year. Only 1 out of every
15 people who try quitting actually succeeds for more than a month.

Q.What Are the Health Risks of Smokeless Tobacco?

A. The most noticeable side effects are stained teeth and poor dental
health. Although these are not usually life threatening, dental problems are
painful, expensive, and may hurt your social life. Chewing tobacco and snuff
can turn your teeth yellowish-brown and give you bad breath. They can also make
your gums bleed and create sores on your gums and inside your mouth that refuse
to heal.

The most serious health risk associated with smokeless tobacco is cancer.
Smokeless tobacco products contain at least 28 cancer-causing chemicals. Over
time, these chemicals increase your risk of cancers in the mouth and throat. If
you use smokeless tobacco, talk to your doctor about checking for any
precancerous lesions.

While tobacco use is the most preventable cause of death in the United
States, more than 400,000 people die prematurely each year because of tobacco
use. If you have thought about using smokeless tobacco or any other tobacco
product, think again. Any tobacco use is dangerous and unhealthy, especially
for teenagers.

Q. How Can I Quit Using Smokeless Tobacco?

A. Just like any other tobacco product, chewing tobacco or snuff can
be hard to quit. Only 6% of tobacco users are able to stop for more than a
month. Many people try to quit over and over again. Don’t despair! There are
ways to help you stop. Nicotine replacement, behavioral therapy, and
prescription medicines are proven to help tobacco users quit.

Nicotine gum, patches, inhalers, and lozenges are all different kinds of
nicotine replacement. They work by giving you nicotine without having to use
chewing tobacco or snuff. Even though they contain nicotine, they do not have
all the cancer-causing chemicals as chewing tobacco and snuff. They can also
help you quit by reducing cravings and discomfort. The nicotine patch has been
specifically shown to work. If you are under 18, you need to get your doctor’s
or parent’s permission to use nicotine replacements.

Behavioral therapy consists of visiting a therapist who will help you find
the best strategy to quit. He or she will help you come up with ways to get
through strong cravings and provide emotional support when you need it.

Some medicines, including SR (Zyban and Wellbutrin SR) and Varenicline
tartrate (Chantix), are formulated to
help people quit using tobacco. Patients should tell their doctor about any
history of psychiatric illness prior to starting Chantix. Chantix may cause
worsening of a current psychiatric illness even if it is currently under
control and may cause an old psychiatric illness to reoccur. Your doctor must
prescribe these medications.

Q. What Do I Say If Somebody Offers Me Some Chewing Tobacco or
Snuff?

A. Saying no to a friend is really hard. But if a friend offers you a
“dip,” just tell them “No thanks.” Even if they seem upset, they probably won’t
stay upset for long. They may even respect you more. Choosing not to use
smokeless tobacco is all about YOU. It’s better for your teeth, gums, and
breath; helps prevent cancer of your mouth, throat, and esophagus; and is a
very wise decision for your overall health.