Smokeless Tobacco and Cancer

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Smokeless Tobacco and Cancer: Questions and Answers

  1. What is smokeless tobacco?

    There are two types of smokeless tobacco - snuff and chewing tobacco. Snuff, a finely ground or shredded tobacco, is packaged as dry, moist, or in sachets (tea bag-like pouches). Typically, the user places a pinch or dip between the cheek and gum Chewing tobacco is available in loose leaf, plug (plug-firm and plug-moist), or twist forms, with the user putting a wad of tobacco inside the cheek. Smokeless tobacco is sometimes called "spit" or "spitting" tobacco because people spit out the tobacco juices and saliva that build up in the mouth.

  2. What harmful chemicals are found in smokeless tobacco?

    • Chewing tobacco and snuff contain 28 carcinogens (cancer-causing agents). The most harmful carcinogens in smokeless tobacco are the tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs). They are formed during the growing, curing, fermenting, and aging of tobacco. TSNAs have been detected in some smokeless tobacco products at levels many times higher than levels of other types of nitrosamines that are allowed in foods, such as bacon and beer.

    • Other cancer-causing substances in smokeless tobacco include N-nitrosamino acids, volatile N-nitrosamines, benzo(a)pyrene, volatile aldehydes, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, crotonaldehde, hydrazine, arsenic, nickel, cadmium, benzopyrene, and polonium-210.

    • All tobacco, including smokeless tobacco, contains nicotine, which is addictive. The amount of nicotine absorbed from smokeless tobacco is 3 to 4 times the amount delivered by a cigarette. Nicotine is absorbed more slowly from smokeless tobacco than from cigarettes, but more nicotine per dose is absorbed from smokeless tobacco than from cigarettes Also, the nicotine stays in the bloodstream for a longer time.

  3. What cancers are caused by or associated with smokeless tobacco use?

    • Smokeless tobacco users increase their risk for cancer of the oral cavity. Oral cancer can include cancer of the lip, tongue, cheeks, gums, and the floor and roof of the mouth.
    • People who use oral snuff for a long time have a much greater risk for cancer of the cheek and gum than people who do not use smokeless tobacco.
    • The possible increased risk for other types of cancer from smokeless tobacco is being studies.

  4. What are some of the other ways smokeless tobacco can harm users' health?

    Some of the other effects of smokeless tobacco use include addiction to nicotine, oral leukoplakia (white mouth lesions that can become cancerous), gum disease, and gum recession (when the gum pulls away from the teeth). Possible increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, and reproductive problems are being studied.

  5. Is smokeless tobacco a good substitute for cigarettes?

    In 1986, the Surgeon General concluded that the use of smokeless tobacco "is not a safe substitute for smoking cigarettes, It can cause cancer and a number of non-cancerous conditions and can lead to nicotine addiction and dependence." Since 1991, The National Cancer Institute has officially recommended that the public avoid and discontinue the use of all tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco. NCI also recognizes that nitrosamines, found in tobacco products, are not safe at any level. The accumulated scientific evidence does not support changing this position.

  6. What about using smokeless tobacco to quit cigarettes?

    Because all to tobacco use cause disease and addiction, NCI recommends that tobacco use be avoided and discontinued. Several non-tobacco methods have been shown to be effective for quitting cigarettes. These methods include pharmacotherapies such as nicotine replacement therapy and bupropion SR, individual and group counseling, and telephone quit lines.

  7. Who uses smokeless tobacco?

    In the United States, the 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, which was conducted by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, reported the following statistics.

    • An estimated 7.6 million Americans age 1 and older (3.4 percent) has used smokeless tobacco in the past month.
    • Smokeless tobacco use was most common among young adults ages 18 to 25.
    • Men were 10 times more likely than women to report using smokeless tobacco (6.5 percent of men age 12 and older compared with 0.5 percent of women).

    People in many other countries and regions, including India, parts of Africa, and some Central Asian countries, have a long history of using smokeless tobacco products.

  8. Where can people find help to quit using smokeless tobacco?

    Several national organizations provide information about the health risks of smokeless tobacco and how to quit:

    The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research's National Oral Health Information Clearinghouse offers educational booklets that discuss spit tobacco use in a colorful and graphic format. These booklets are designed specifically for young men who have decided to quit or are thinking about it.

    Organization: National Oral Health Information Clearinghouse
    National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
    Address: One NOHIC Way
    Bethesda, MD 20892-3500
    Telephone: 301-402-7364

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Office on Smoking and Health distributes a brochure for teens who are trying to quit cigarettes or smokeless tobacco. The Office also maintains a database of smoking and health-related materials.

    Organization: The Office on Smoking and Health
    Centers for Disease Control and Preventions
    Address: Mail Stop K-50
    4770 Buford Highway, NE.
    Atlanta, GA 30341-3724
    Telephone: 1-800-232-1311 (1-800-CDC-1311)

    The mission of the National Spit Tobacco Education Program (NSTEP) is to prevent people, especially young people, from starting to use tobacco, and to help users to quit. NSTEP offers information and materials on spit tobacco use, prevention, and cessation.

    Organization: National Spit tobacco Education Program
    Oral Health America
    Address: Suite 352
    410 North Michigan Avenue
    Chicago, IL, 60611
    Telephone: 312-836-9900
    Web site:

    The American Cancer Society publishes a series of pamphlets with helpful tips and techniques for smokeless tobacco users who want to quit.

    Organizations: American Cancer Society
    Address: 1599 Clifton Road, NE.
    Atlanta, GA 30329
    Telephone: 1-800-227-2345 (1-800-ACS-2345)
    Web site:

    The American Academy of Family Physicians has a fact sheet with information on how to quit using smokeless tobacco. The fact sheet is available at on the Internet.

    Organization: American Academy of Family Physicians
    Address: 11400 Tomahawk Creek Parkway
    Leawood, KS 66211-2672
    Web site:

    A number of other organizations provide information about where to find help to stop using smokeless tobacco. State and local health agencies often have information about community tobacco cessation programs the local or county government section in the phone book (blue pages) has phone number for health agencies. Information to help smokers who want to quit is also available through community hospitals, the yellow pates (under "drug abuse and addictions"), public libraries, health maintenance organizations, health fairs, and community help lines.

  9. What other resources are available?

    A person's dentist or doctor can be a good source of information about the health risks of smokeless tobacco and about quitting. Friends, family members, teachers, and coaches can help a person quit smokeless tobacco use by giving them support and encouragement.