Chewing tobacco (also known as “snuff” or “chew”) is held inside the mouth between the cheek and the gum. It is available in pouches or tins. The finely ground form of snuff is called snus. The amount of snuff a person puts in his mouth is called a pinch, lipper, dip, or quid.
Chewing tobacco contains about 28 carcinogens, or cancer causing chemicals. The tobacco-specific nitrosamines, or TSNAs, are the main carcinogens in chewing tobacco. Chewing tobacco contains several cancer-causing agents including acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, benzopyrene, arsenic, cadmium, and nickel. Contrary to popular belief, snus is not a safe form of chewing tobacco, even if it is steam-heated instead of fermented like other chewing tobacco. Sinus has fewer nitosamines but still contains a significant number of cancer-causing chemicals.
Chewing tobacco contains nicotine, like all other tobacco products. Nicotine is responsible for addiction. It is absorbed more slowly with chewing tobacco than with cigarettes, but there are higher nicotine concentrations in chewing tobacco.
Health risks of chewing tobacco
Several negative effects are associated with chewing tobacco:
- Cancer risk. Chewing tobacco significantly increases the risk of developing different forms of cancer, particularly cancer of the oral cavity including the cheek, gums, lips, tongue, and floor and roof of the mouth. It is also believed that there is a link between chewing tobacco and pancreatic, esophageal, and stomach cancer.
- Gum diseases and gum recession.
- Leukoplakia, or white patches in the mouth, that can develop into cancer.
- Abrasion or wearing down of teeth.
- Tooth stains, tooth decay, and tooth loss.
There are also studies that point to the possible link between chewing tobacco and an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and heart attack.
Chewing tobacco is marketed as a way for smokers to use tobacco in smoke-free areas. While it may allow people to circumvent smoking laws, don’t be misled into thinking that chewing tobacco is a safe alternative to cigarette smoking.