Most of us think of cigarettes and smoking when we think of tobacco, and certainly this is by far the most common form in which it is used. But it’s available in several ‘smokeless’ forms too, which also contain nicotine and various other harmful chemicals, and are also addictive and damaging to your health.
Tobacco products can be divided into two categories: 'smoking' tobacco, which includes cigarettes, pipe tobacco and cigars; and ‘smokeless’ tobacco, which includes snuff and chewing tobacco. Smokeless tobacco products include chewing tobacco and dried or moist snuff. Dried snuff is inhaled through the nose; moist snuff is placed between the lip and the gum.
There is no lung damage involved in using these products, but it’s a serious mistake to think of them as a gentler alternative to cigarettes. Specifically, smokeless tobacco:
- Increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, voice box and oesophagus. The juice from smokeless tobacco products is absorbed directly through the lining of the mouth. After about three to five years of use, it causes sores and white, thickened patches on the inner cheek or gum. These patches, called leukoplakia, are the precursors to oral cancer.
- Increases the risk of gum disease and dental problems. People who use smokeless tobacco have two to three times more cases of gum disease and other severe dental problems than people who don’t use tobacco products. Smokeless tobacco stains and abrades the teeth, and leads to tooth decay and tooth loss.
- Increases the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
- Causes chronic bad breath.
Smokeless tobacco products are highly addictive. These products generally have a very high nicotine content, and release it over a long period of time, which means that the brain may contain nicotine pretty much continuously. People who use smokeless tobacco are likely to find it even more difficult to quit their habit than smokers do.