Effects of smokeless tobacco

Originally Published: December 23, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: January 19, 2007
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Dear Alice,

What are the effects of using snuff (the kind that you put under your lip)? Can you get cancer within a few months?

— Spitting

Dear Spitting,

Snuff, a form of smokeless or spit tobacco, is not a safe substitute for cigarettes. Unburned tobacco contains carcinogens that have been shown to cause tumors. People who use smokeless tobacco are four times more likely to have oral cancer than non-users. Oral cancers include cancers of the lips, mouth, gums, cheek, tongue, pharynx, and throat. According to the American Cancer Society, long-time users of smokeless tobacco are almost 50 times more likely to develop cancers of the cheek and gums.

Other conditions that may result from using smokeless tobacco include:

  • gum disease
  • cavities
  • bone loss around teeth
  • white sores in the mouth that can lead to cancer (leukoplakia)
  • increased heart rate and high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • ulcers

Furthermore, regular use of snuff can lead to long-term nicotine dependence. Withdrawal from smokeless tobacco can be very difficult and may include intense cravings, trouble concentrating, headaches, irritability, increased appetite, depressed mood, and trouble sleeping.

While you probably don't have cancer after only a few months of use, you should seriously consider quitting now before you put yourself at even higher risk of serious health complications. Contact the American Cancer Society toll-free at 800.ACS.2345 or visit Quitting Spit and Other Forms of Oral Tobacco for more information. If you want to quit and are a student at Columbia, call Primary Care Medical Services at x4-7426 or log-in through Open Communicator to make an appointment with your health care provider. S/he can answer your questions about your cancer concerns and offer information and support in quitting smokeless tobacco. Whether or not you're at Columbia, your dentist may also be a good resource for tips on snuffing this habit once and for all.

Good luck!