The list of diseases resulting from smoking is long and devastating, from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and emphysema, to lung cancer, and more. Cigarette smoking alone accounts for more than 480,000 deaths per year (about one in five deaths annually), and more than 16 million people live with a smoking-related disease.
But whether you smoke tobacco; are exposed to it as “secondhand” smoke; or dip, chew, and spit the smokeless kind that’s not burned, tobacco use — worldwide, in any form — causes about six million deaths every year. Yet, despite the dangers that we already know, current studies still project that more than eight million people will die annually from using tobacco products by the year 2030.
Smokeless tobacco has the same addictive nicotine found in cigarettes, and it won’t help you quit smoking. It comes in two main varieties, often enhanced with flavoring and promising a “buzz,” to attract its users. The chewing type, available in loose leaves, plugs or bricks, or rope twists, is placed between the cheek and lower lip, where it’s chewed or held in place, and saliva is either spit out or swallowed. Harmful nicotine and toxins get absorbed into the mouth’s lining and go into the bloodstream. The throat is also at risk. The snuff variety, that’s either finely cut and dry-powdered, or moist snus (pronounced “snoose”), is also in dissolvable drops or strips, or in teabag-like pouches. Dry snuff is also inhaled through the nose, posing a threat to the nasal cavity.
Smokeless tobacco has been around for centuries, associated with historical figures. Some outdoorsmen and athletes have popularized it (although many have switched to chewing gum or sunflower seeds as healthier substitutes, given the serious health risks).
Here are four things to make you avoid smokeless tobacco:
- At least 28 cancer-causing chemicals are found in smokeless tobacco, including arsenic; lead; uranium; and the most harmful, nitrosamines, formed during the product’s growing, curing, fermenting, and aging process.
- Smokeless tobacco causes many serious diseases: esophageal cancer (cancer of the esophagus, the tube that connects the throat to the stomach), oral cancer, and pancreatic cancer. It may also cause gum disease, heart disease, and oral lesions in the mouth (leukoplakia).
- Two cans of smokeless tobacco each week equals smoking 3 ½ packs of cigarettes a day for one week. Smokeless stays in your blood even longer, so it’s harder to quit.
- Your could lose your teeth or jaw to smokeless tobacco use.
There’s no safe tobacco, and no safe level of using tobacco. Visit www.smokefree.gov, or call the National Cancer Institute’s Smoking Quitline at 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848) for quitting help.
By Lisa Miceli Feliciano