Subscribe to smoking and how to quit email updates.
Smokeless tobacco and nicotine products
Smokeless tobacco and tobacco-free nicotine products are marketed as ways to get nicotine in places where smoking is banned. These products are not FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapies, and there is no proof that they can help smokers quit. Public health experts worry about the health risks of these products, as well as that they may appeal to young nonsmokers and hinder a smoker’s chances of quitting.
Smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to cigarettes. Just like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco is addictive and can cause cancer.
Smokeless tobacco comes in 2 main forms:
- Snuff is a finely ground tobacco. In the United States, snuff is the most popular type of smokeless tobacco. Users put a pinch of snuff (also called a "dip" or a "rub") between the cheek and gum in the mouth and hold it there.
- Chewing tobacco is bulkier than snuff and is chewed. Chewing tobacco comes in leaf and plug forms.
Smokeless tobacco contains at least 3,000 chemicals, including many that you wouldn't want in your body. Like all forms of tobacco, smokeless tobacco contains nicotine, an addictive drug that gets you hooked on tobacco. Holding one pinch of smokeless tobacco in your mouth for 30 minutes delivers as much nicotine as 3-4 cigarettes.
In addition, at least 28 cancer-causing chemicals have been found in smokeless tobacco, including:
- Nitrosamines — the most powerful cancer-causing agents in smokeless tobacco. Smokeless tobacco contains from 20 to 43,000 times more nitrosamines than other consumer products, such as beer or bacon!
- Polonium 210 — a radioactive element
- Formaldehyde — a chemical found in the fluid used to preserve dead bodies
- Cadmium — a metal used in batteries
- Arsenic — a poison used in insecticides
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) — air pollutants formed by the burning of substances, such as coal, gas, wood, charcoal, gasoline, and tobacco
The use of smokeless tobacco can cause:
- Cancers of the mouth, pharynx (throat), and esophagus (the tube that carries food to the stomach)
- Shrinking of the gums around your teeth
- Cracked lips, white spots, sores, and bleeding in the mouth
- Increased risk for heart disease and stroke
Tobacco companies continue to develop new types of smokeless tobacco products, such as mint-flavored tablets that dissolve in your mouth and moist, spitfree "snus," in an effort to expand the tobacco market. Words such as "refreshing" and "tasty" are used to market these products, which can be used in places where smoking is banned.
Some tobacco-free products also are marketed as ways to get nicotine in places where smoking is banned. These include:
- Dissolvable tablets that contain nicotine. These products look like candy, and public health experts fear that may lead to accidental nicotine poisoning in children.
- Bottled water that contains nicotine. These products also look harmless, but are dangerous to pets and children.
- E-cigarettes. These are battery-operated devices made to look like and be used as cigarettes. These fruit- and candy-flavored "e-cigs" are imported into the United States and sold in mall kiosks and online. A recent FDA study found that e-cigs are not safe.
Explore other publications and websites
Ask Your Dental Hygienist About Tobacco Use and Periodontal Disease (Copyright © American Dental Hygienists' Association) — This publication discusses the effects of tobacco on oral health. It explains what the warning signs of periodontal disease are and how tobacco increases the risk of developing it.
Chewing Tobacco: Not a Safe Alternative to Cigarettes (Copyright © Mayo Foundation) — This publication provides information on the serious health risks of using chewing tobacco and other forms of smokeless tobacco such as snuff and betel quid. It discusses addiction, gum disease, cavities, heart disease, precancerous mouth sores, and oral cancer.
Questions About Smoking, Tobacco, and Health (Copyright © American Cancer Society) — This publication answers common questions about health and tobacco use. It provides information on the various health effects of smoking, addiction, and the harmful chemicals cigarettes contain.
Smokeless Tobacco — Smokeless tobacco is bad for your health, just like cigarettes. this web page lists resources to help smokeless tobacco users quit and also provides the contact information for the National Cancer Institute’s free, confidential quitline.
Smokeless Tobacco and Cancer: Questions and Answers — This fact sheet describes smokeless tobacco and explains the risks of using it. It also provides resources for smokeless tobacco users who want to quit.
Smokeless Tobacco and How to Quit (Copyright © American Cancer Society) — This resource offers basic information on smokeless tobacco and the potential consequences of using it. It also explains why tobacco is addictive and provides ideas to help users quit, including quit programs and non-drug products.
Smokeless Tobacco Facts — This fact sheet provides an overview of chewing tobacco and snuff, as well as statistics about the health effects, usage, and smokeless tobacco industry.
Smokeless Tobacco: Tips on How to Stop (Copyright © American Association of Family Physicians) — This fact sheet provides information on the importance of quitting smokeless tobacco, as well as tips on how to prepare to quit, alternatives to smokeless tobacco, and what to do if you start using again.
Spit Tobacco: A Guide for Quitting — This guide on how to stop using spit tobacco provides information on developing a plan for quitting and coping with withdrawal.
Connect with other organizations
American Cancer Society
American Legacy Foundation
National Cancer Institute, NIH
Prevent Cancer Foundation
Content last updated May 19, 2010.
Resources last updated May 19, 2010.
A federal government website managed by the Office on Women's Health in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
200 Independence Avenue, S.W. • Washington, DC 20201