How Addictive Is Smokeless Tobacco

How Addictive is Smokeless Tobacco?

Smokeless tobacco is made with tobacco leaves that are usually sucked on. These are also widely known as ‘spit’ or more often as ‘chewing tobacco’. Users fill their mouths, typically between their cheeks and gums, with tobacco leaves instead of smoking them.

Some forms are dried and inhaled through the nose. The substance generally found in cigarettes and other tobacco products is nicotine which is also present in smokeless tobacco.

Smokeless Tobacco
Photo Credits: Uffe Johansson

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance. It is processed within the body well that is why smokers get dependent on it easily. Additionally, the nicotine present in smokeless tobacco is more easily absorbed because of the mode it is ingested. As a result, the World Health Organization concludes that the smokeless form is more addicting than smoked or burned ones.

Teens who use such products for recreation eventually get addicted to nicotine based on the data from the Centers for Disease Control. Furthermore, there is also a higher chance that they will become cigarette smokers in the long run. In short, smokeless tobacco is highly addictive as well.

Types of Smokeless Tobacco

1. Chewing or Spit Tobacco

This is one of the most common kinds and usually comes as plain leaves or twists of dried leaves that also include flavoring. Users either chew it or leave the tobacco twist within their mouths.

chewing smokeless tobacco
Image Credits: Ezra Shaw

Small capillaries found in the mouth’s surface absorb the nicotine present. People spit their discolored saliva instead of swallowing it because of the tobacco product in their mouths. Hence, its other name ‘spit tobacco’

2. Snuff Tobacco

This type of smokeless tobacco is produced from dried and then grounded tobacco leaves. There are two kinds of snuff namely dry and moist. The dry type is just the grounded leaves that get inhaled through the nose into the user’s nasal cavity so that the linings within the nose absorb the stimulant present.

snuff tobacco smokeless tobacco
Image Credits: Ezra Shaw

On the other hand, moist snuff comes in packages that resemble small pouches. These small, tea bag-like pouches are then situated between the cheek and gums or anywhere within a person’s mouth. This is more discreet to use compared to spit or chewing tobacco. But, much like chewing tobacco, nicotine is also absorbed within the mouth’s lining.

3. Dissolving Tobacco Products

Tobacco products are still on-demand in the market and manufacturers start to produce dissolving types of smokeless tobacco as a response to the demand. The products range from pellets, melt-away strips, and almost candy-like that give the effect of nicotine but less obvious. Juices from these products are commonly designed to be swallowed.

Health Risks Associated with Smokeless Tobacco

Smokeless tobacco has already been around for many years together with the smoked ones. People often assume that just because you do not inhale or smoke it, it is a safer alternative. However, this is not entirely true.

The American Cancer Society clearly states that smokeless tobacco, no matter what form, is never a safe alternative to or substitute for cigarette smoking. Still, many companies that manufacture tobacco often advertise these products as such.

Furthermore, using these chemical-filled products also lead to serious diseases and even life-threatening ones. Aside from addiction or full dependency on smokeless tobacco, the National Cancer Institute says that using the product may cause other diseases which will be discussed in the following paragraphs.

1. Cancer

The amount of nicotine is generally the same with either smoked or smokeless tobacco and the risk for cancer is the same for the smokers and the people who use their smokeless counterparts.

tongue cancer
Image Credits: Welleschik

One of the most carcinogenic substances that users must be aware of is tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs). This substance is linked to the formation of mouth, tongue, gum, and cheek cancer as well.

Additionally, the esophagus may also be hugely affected and lead to esophageal cancer. Lastly, the use of smokeless tobacco products is included in the risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer.

2. Heart Disease

The Mayo Clinic states that smokeless tobacco that is developed into other forms also incorporates other harmful substances that possibly increase the heart rate and blood pressure of its users. These additives are mainly incorporated to snuff and chewing forms.

Heart Disease Cause of Nicotine

Although studies for the possible cardiovascular effects of the non-smoked products are limited, a research by the American Heart Association still does not recommend the use of it.

Their study showed significant evidence that chronic use of smokeless tobacco products may be associated with a higher risk of a fatal heart attack or a fatal stroke. Moreover, users of this harmful smokeless tobacco may have lower chances of survival from a heart attack or stroke.

3. Mouth and Teeth Problems

Studies done by the American Cancer Society show that users who chew tobacco are more likely to develop leukoplakia in the mouth. These are spots that look like sores but painless. These gray to white-colored patches are also common indicators of developing mouth cancer and are commonly known as pre-cancerous mouth lesions.

Mouth and Teeth Problems

Smokeless tobacco use also affects the users’ teeth aside from mouth problems. Smokeless tobacco leaves the teeth stained. Next, a lot of long-time smokeless tobacco users also develop gum diseases, cavities, abrasion of their teeth, and eventually tooth decay. In worse cases, the bone around the users’ teeth gets lost and gums shrink so much that teeth loosen and eventually fall out. The mix of these damages leads to bad breath.

4. Reproductive Health Risks

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, when pregnant women use any kind of tobacco product, their risk for stillbirth and premature delivery are significantly increased. This is because of the significantly high nicotine content and the additional harmful chemicals used during the manufacturing process of the products.

pregnant woman
Image Credits: Needpix

Moreover, the unborn baby is also affected. For instance, a study showed that exposure to nicotine has detrimental effects on the developing baby’s lung and brain. These are only some of the many reasons why total abstinence from the use of tobacco products is recommended to pregnant women for the whole duration of pregnancy.


Smokeless tobacco is highly addictive because of the substance called nicotine. Aside from the development of unhealthy dependency on the product, smokeless tobacco also presents major health risks. The health problems that may arise from the use of smokeless tobacco products include cancers, cardiovascular diseases, mouth problems, and reproductive health risks. These are just a glimpse of how many dangerous effects are associated with the use of tobacco products in general.

It is not recommended to use these harmful products as a form of alternative to smoking. Because both present major health risks that are preventable with a change of lifestyle, tobacco users and smokers should try their best to stop the bad habit and live a healthier and longer life.

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