Chewing tobacco risks

Originally Published: December 11, 1995 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: December 4, 2009
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Alice,

My dad uses tobacco — the type you "dip" or put in between the cheek and gum and spit out. I am trying to get him to stop and need some solid facts about the harm this type of tobacco use can do to the body. There is lots of information out there on smoking, but I am having a hard time finding information on this. Please help!

—Concerned Son

Dear Concerned Son,

Your dad should be proud to have a child who is so concerned about his health. Encouraging a friend or family member to quit using an addictive substance can be difficult, so be patient if your dad doesn't respond favorably right away. In addition to talking with your father about the health risks of chewing tobacco, you might also want to share with him some of the tobacco cessation resources listed below.

Plug, leaf, and snuff are three smokeless tobaccos that have resurged in America as the number of adults smoking cigarettes have declined. Smokeless tobacco has several health risks including cancer, and it's not a safe substitute for cigarette smoking. According to the American Cancer Society, people who use smokeless tobacco have a higher chance of developing oral and throat cancer than people who don't use tobacco. Using smokeless tobacco can cause white sores called leukoplakia to develop in the mouth which may lead to cancer. Tumor-initiating properties, the carcinogenic nitrosamines NNN and NNK, are prevalent in unburned tobacco. Snuff has as much as 135 mg/kg of NNN and 14 mg/kg of NNK.

Apart from cancer, dipping has several other health consequences. Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and blood levels of nicotine among smokeless tobacco users are similar to those of cigarette smokers. Using smokeless tobacco can also lead to oral health problems including gingivitis, gum recession, tooth loss, yellowed teeth, and bad breath. In pregnant women, heavy metals like lead and cadmium in smokeless tobacco can cause infant birth defects.

Tobacco also contains nicotine, an addictive substance which can cause chemical dependence. Nicotine dependence makes it difficult for folks to quit smoking or using tobacco even when they are aware of the possible health consequences. Before talking with your dad, check out Quitting Smokeless Tobacco on the Go Ask Alice! website for ways to help your dad quit using tobacco. Columbia students can see a tobacco cessation specialist at Primary Care Medical Services by making an appointment through Open Communicator or by calling x4-2284. In addition, you can contact Nicotine Anonymous at 1-877-TRY-NICA (1-877-879-6422) or Smokefree.gov at 1-800-QUITNOW (1-800-784-8669) for more information and resources.

Talking with your dad about the health risks of using smokeless tobacco is a good first step in helping him quit. However, even if your dad is highly motivated, fighting a nicotine addiction can be an uphill battle. With your support and encouragement, hopefully your father can kick his dipping habit. Good luck to both of you!

Alice