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Freeing yourself from smokeless tobacco

  • Published
  • By Heather Braundmeier
  • 375th Medical Group Health Promotion Coordinator

What’s a good line of attack when I want to quit smokeless tobacco?

Quitting smokeless tobacco has a lot in common with quitting smoking. You will need to get support of family and friends, as well as follow the same four steps to quitting, including: thinking about quitting, preparing to quit, quitting, and staying quit. No one ever said quitting was easy, but when you decide the time is right to stop using tobacco, these four steps will help prepare you for the challenges that lie ahead. Take it slow and review each step to create an effective plan of action. Remember: planning ahead can be the key to your success in quitting tobacco for good!


Here are some good ways to get the most out of your smokeless quit attempt:

You may need to have something in your mouth to take the place of that wad of chew or tobacco packet. Try sugar-free hard candies or gum, cinnamon sticks, mints, beef jerky, or sunflower seeds. Nicotine replacement therapies, like nicotine gum or patch, often help. Nicotine gum can be especially helpful because you hold it in your mouth, making it a substitute for chewing tobacco. You may need to combine these therapies, so ask your doctor. You will notice positive physical changes pretty quickly. Maybe your gums hurt less or you have fewer, or even no, mouth sores. Pay attention to these physical changes to stay motivated.


Can’t switching to smokeless tobacco help me quit smoking?

You might have heard that switching from cigarettes to smokeless is a great way to quit, but this is not true. When people want you to believe that smokeless is a safer alternative, they often quote a study emphasizing how many smokers switched to smokeless and then stopped smoking. What they don’t often mention is that almost half of the switchers did quit cigarettes but then they became permanent smokeless tobacco users instead! If you use smokeless tobacco to quit smoking there’s a good chance that you will be switching from one very dangerous addiction to another.


Is smokeless tobacco less addictive than cigarettes?

From the start, tobacco companies have marketed smokeless tobacco as a safer alternative to smoking, but, in study after study, researchers have proved that smokeless tobacco is actually far more addictive than cigarettes because of its high nicotine levels. Researchers have found that the nicotine, addictive agent in cigarettes, is actually found in greater concentration in smokeless tobacco. On average, one can of snuff contain as much nicotine as 60 cigarettes.

The average habitual smokeless tobacco user will receive 130–250mg of nicotine per day, compared with 180mg for a person with a pack-a-day cigarette habit. While nicotine in smokeless tobacco is absorbed more slowly, it continues to be absorbed even after the tobacco is removed. These high levels of nicotine can make smokeless tobacco even harder to stop using. The longer you use smokeless, the more nicotine you need to achieve the same effect. This cycle often leads to more and more dangerous behaviors such as switching to brands with more nicotine, using more frequently, swallowing tobacco juice, and leaving tobacco in your mouth overnight.


I smoke, but I don’t use smokeless tobacco, so why should I worry about it?

If you smoke cigarettes, be worried. Cigarette smoking can actually lead to the use of smokeless tobacco. A study of 28,229 military personnel found that current smokers were three times more likely to start using smokeless tobacco. Smoking was the strongest predictor of daily smokeless tobacco use, even beating out the occasional use of spit tobacco!


I use chewing tobacco, so why worry about smoking?

Why? Because you might be setting yourself up to become a smoker. Research shows that smokeless tobacco users are more likely to start smoking. In a study of 7,865 male Air Force recruits who reported never smoking before, those using smokeless tobacco were 233 percent more likely to start smoking than those who did not use smokeless tobacco.


What is dissolvable tobacco?

Dissolvable tobacco is finely milled tobacco bound together in flavored, breath mint-sized tablets, toothpick-sized sticks, or breath strip-sized dissolvable tongue strips. Depending on the product, one piece takes between 5 and 30 minutes to dissolve. Because these dissolvable tobacco products contain tobacco, they also contain the same carcinogens found in tobacco and can increase the risk of tobacco-related oral cancers (e.g., tongue, lip, and mouth cancer). Dissolvable products generally contain between 1.5mg and 4mg of nicotine compared to the 1mg found in a light cigarette. The Food and Drug Administration is investigating the potential of these products to produce accidental nicotine poisoning or overdose.


Is it a good alternative when quitting?

While these products may appeal as an alternative way to use tobacco without dealing with smoke or spit, dissolvable tobacco contains high levels of nicotine and serves only to continue nicotine addiction. As such, these products will not help with quitting tobacco and may only serve to increase nicotine dependence. Tobacco users looking for smoke- and spit-free alternatives to step down nicotine intake while quitting should consider proven nicotine replacement therapies, including the patch or nicotine gum or other medication and behavior modification therapies. Please contact the Health Promotion office at 256-7139 to learn more about the tobacco cessation program at Scott Air Force Base and start a journey to a healthier you!