Quitting Smokeless Tobacco

By QuitNet team member Corrie Mook

At QuitNet, we talk most often about quitting smoking – but combustible tobacco isn’t the only type of tobacco that’s harmful to your health. Many people join QuitNet for support to stop using smokeless tobacco, too. Also known as oral or spit tobacco, it’s still known to cause significant damage to your body (and your wallet!). Quitting all forms of tobacco is one of the best things you can do for your health, and with the right plan and the right support, it’s entirely possible to do so.

What is smokeless tobacco?

Four types of smokeless tobacco are available in the United States:

  • Snuff is finely ground tobacco packaged in cans or pouches, which is sold either dry or moist;
  • Chewing tobacco (known as "chew") is placed between the cheek and gum or teeth;
  • Snus (rhymes with “loose”) is moist, spitless snuff that comes packaged in small pouches and is often flavored; and
  • Dissolvable tobacco is spitless, often flavored tobacco that’s finely milled and dissolves in the mouth.

Even though the tobacco isn’t inhaled, there’s good reason to kick the habit. Smokeless tobacco users can encounter significant dental problems, including tooth decay, tooth loss, and painful mouth sores. It’s also been shown to cause cancer of the mouth, esophagus, and pancreas, and may increase the risk of death from heart disease and stroke. This, combined with the presence of many harmful chemicals with other negative health effects, is what makes smokeless tobacco use so risky.

Quitting smokeless tobacco and quitting cigarettes involve many of the same strategies and resources. However, there are some ways that quitting smokeless tobacco is different from quitting smoking. Understanding these differences may help you learn how you need support, and what tactics might be the most helpful for you.

When a cigarette smoker lights up, nicotine is carried deep into the lungs, where it goes directly to the brain. That’s why a smoker feels a rush of nicotine within seconds. Nicotine from smokeless tobacco is absorbed through the skin, where the nicotine is absorbed much more slowly. Smokeless users have the added challenge of overcoming the ease of accessibility of smokeless tobacco; a person can often use it in many public settings that cigarette users can’t. Instead of lighting up throughout the day, some smokeless users keep tobacco in their mouths for hours on end. Because the patterns of tobacco use are typically different, smokers and smokeless tobacco users may find different coping strategies helpful.

For many smokeless tobacco users, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can be a valuable aid, whether the patch, gum, or lozenge. The effectiveness of various quit medications on smokeless tobacco users is different from those who use combustible tobacco, though, so it’s best to talk with your doctor to see if medication might be the right choice.

There are many reasons to quit smokeless tobacco, and many resources to help you in the process. Brian B., who successfully stopped using dip for over a year, used a variety of behavioral changes and tangible supports in his quit. Similar to quitting smoking, he found cinnamon and mint hard candies, water, exercise, adequate sleep, accountability, and a combination of NRT to be helpful. Just like quitting smoking, successful quitters make a plan, ask for help, and connect with others for advice and accountability. At QuitNet, tobacco users of any kind can find the information and support they need to quit.