Quitting smokeless tobacco


How can a person get help quitting the use of smokeless tobacco? All of the resources in this general area are geared toward helping smokers stop smoking, but a smokeless tobacco nicotine addict does not have a similar usage ritual as a smoker, but does have a similar, or worse, addiction than a smoker because the nicotine absorption levels are many times greater. Any suggestions as to how a smokeless tobacco user can get help stopping this addiction would be greatly appreciated.

— Snuff head

Dear Snuff head,

Kudos to you for seeking resources to help you quit! To learn about specific health risks associated with using chewing tobacco and snuff, check out Effects of smokeless tobacco. As you mentioned, there do seem to be more resources geared towards those wishing to quit smoking tobacco. However, some of the strategies may be transferable or adaptable to quitting smokeless tobacco as well. For example:

  • Self-help strategies: For those interested in quitting on their own, many internet resources, videos, and "quit kits" offer privacy, a low cost, and flexibility for anyone quitting a tobacco product. Furthermore, some organizations, such as the American Cancer Society and Smokefree Veterans, offer guides and tips specifically for people looking to quit smokeless tobacco.
  • Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT): NRTs (e.g., nasal sprays, inhalers, chewing gum, patches, or lozenges) release controlled doses of nicotine into the body, reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with nicotine dependency. Some forms of NRT appear to be more effective for users of smokeless tobacco. For example, those who use smokeless tobacco may find nicotine gum or lozenges are the most effective method as it's the most similar to using chewing tobacco or snuff. In that same vein, an inhaler, designed to look and feel like a cigarette, may also not be helpful for a smokeless tobacco user. If you choose to use NRT, it might be best to consult with your health care provider first to determine what method might be most effective for you.
  • Prescription medications: There are some medications that have shown to be useful in aiding cessation efforts. The prescription drug varenicline has been shown to be helpful to smokeless tobacco users looking to quit. It modifies the nicotine receptors in the brain, reducing both the pleasure response to nicotine and the withdrawal symptoms after quitting. Bupropion, another medication approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) as a smoking cessation aid, works by reducing withdrawal symptoms, similar to varenicline .

As with quitting smoking, quitting smokeless tobacco is a process that takes time and patience. However, there is an element of quitting that is exclusive to smokeless tobacco users: For many who quit smokeless tobacco, there is a stronger need to initially replace the oral fixation associated with the use of chewing tobacco or dip. So, oral substitutes (such as gum, candy, or sunflower seeds) may be helpful. In addition, there are some commercial smokeless tobacco substitutes sold in round containers resembling snuff tins. They don't contain tobacco or nicotine but instead contain a variety of flavored herbal blends. Right now, there is little information available about the potential side effects of this non-nicotinic snuff. In some cases, such herbal blends were able to successfully decrease withdrawal symptoms but were less effective at reducing cravings than other cessation options.

There are so many great benefits to quitting, such as having fewer mouth sores and less issues with your gums. Furthermore, improvements in oral health, combined with feelings of mastery and well-being, may help motivate people to continue their cessation commitment. If you feel ready to quit and decide to make a go of it on your own, consider checking out the American Cancer Society’s guide for quitting tobacco. Health care providers and dentists can also speak more to the oral health benefits of curbing smokeless tobacco use and may be able to help you flesh out your plans for quitting or offer you a referral to someone who can. Additionally, there may also be tobacco cessation support available in your community, whether it be behavioral support, prescriptions for medications to assist with quitting, or access to NRTs.

Best of luck!

Last updated Mar 04, 2022
Originally published Jan 27, 1995

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