Smokeless tobacco: Not a quick fix

  • Published
  • By Minda Parsons, MA, ACSM, CHES
  • 21st Medical Squadron Health Promotion excerpted from YouCanQuit2

YouCanQuit2, a Defense Department program, is an educational campaign for the U.S. military. Originally launched in February of 2007, the mission of the campaign is to help U.S. Service members quit tobacco—for themselves and their loved ones. For more information visit,

Are you considering using smokeless tobacco? Maybe you think you can use it at times when smoking a cigarette or a vape isn’t allowed. Maybe you’re trying to quit smoking and you think that switching to smokeless tobacco is less harmful.

Feb. 25 marks the Great American Spit Out Campaign to help increase awareness to the dangers of smokeless tobacco. Even if you or those you love could give up smokeless tobacco for one day, that would be a great start in the right direction.

Using smokeless tobacco as a quick fix to get nicotine or to quit other forms of tobacco may seem like a good idea, especially if you see your buddies using it. However, no tobacco product is safe, and, as a reminder, even smokeless tobacco can only be used at designated tobacco use areas.

Back up – what is smokeless tobacco?

Smokeless tobacco comes in many forms, such as chew, snuff, dip or snus; and is placed between the lip or cheek and gum. The nicotine is then absorbed through the mouth tissues and into the body.

Why do people use smokeless tobacco?

Some people think using smokeless tobacco is a safer and quicker way to quit smoking. But smokeless tobacco actually contains more nicotine, the highly addictive chemical in the tobacco plant and tobacco products, than cigarettes. Thus, it is as addictive as smoking and causes intense cravings when you don’t have it. There is no proof that smokeless tobacco helps people quit smoking.

You may also be using smokeless tobacco to stay alert on duty, particularly when you have duty on aircraft, the flight line or submarine, where smoking cigarettes is not allowed. Keep in mind that the Department of Defense rules are the same for all tobacco products: They may only be used in designated tobacco use areas. There are no exceptions for smokeless tobacco use.

What are the risks of smokeless tobacco?

Smokeless tobacco is harmful. In fact, some of the health effects of smokeless tobacco are the same as smoking cigarettes:

–    Impaired night vision and hearing
–    Skin wrinkles
–    Poor wound healing
–    Higher blood pressure and heart rate
–    Impaired sexual performance
–    Lowered fertility for women
–    Low birthweight and increased risk of premature births or stillbirths when used during pregnancy

Smokeless tobacco has other risks too:

–    Gum disease, tooth decay and tooth loss
–    Leukoplakia, which are white or gray spots in the mouth that can lead to cancer
–    Cancer of the mouth, tongue, esophagus or pancreas.

It is never too late to quit tobacco. The benefits of quitting tobacco begin within minutes of nicotine leaving your body, such as decreased pulse rate and blood pressure, and continue for a number of years.

Here’s how you can get support to help you quit:

–    Talk to your health care provider. They can provide counseling, recommend programs and talk about whether tobacco cessation products, like medications or nicotine replacement therapy, are right for you.
–    Try DipfreeTXT, a texting program specifically for those who use smokeless tobacco.
–    Consider using 24/7 live chat on the YouCanQuit2 website, or mobile apps such as QuitGuide or QuitStart.

Take advantage of the many resources to help you get started on your quit journey today!