Chewing Tobacco: Effects, Addiction, and How to Quit
Chewing tobacco, snuff or plugs are products that have enjoyed fairly widespread use for decades. They have never achieved the massive popularity of cigarettes, but many people use them as an alternative to smoking. As we examine the health risks involved with chewing tobacco, we will see that it is definitely not a safer choice and shares many similar health risks as smoking does.
Most of us at QuitSmokingCommunity have been addicted to one form of tobacco or another, including chewing tobacco, in the past. We have been there. And we have done it. And now we’ll show how you can do it too. We’ll talk about each phase every addict has to go through, and we’ll divulge actionable tips how to successfully get through the patchy period.
However, remember that every human being is unique, and you could have your own personal reasons for quitting and motivations that will help you stay on track. It’s time to work out your custom recipe for willpower.
Ready? Let’s go.
How to Quit Chewing Tobacco
Step 1: Pick a Day
If you want to quit, then you are going to have to pick a quit date and stick to it. You can’t just say that you are going to start quitting and not have a date set in mind. That makes it too easy to fall back into your old habits simply because you didn’t make definite plans. If you set a date for yourself, you are more likely to put an honest effort in.
So set a date, but don’t make it harder on yourself than you need to be. Realize how addicted you are and give yourself some time before that date if you need it. If you have been chewing tobacco for a while now, then you will need to give yourself some time to slow down your usage and curb your cravings before you reach that quit date. You may want to plan ahead to have a quit date that is a few weeks or even a month from when you first decide you need to start quitting.
Step 2: Build Your Resolve
If you are going to quit, then you need to be determined to do so. You cannot put a half-hearted effort into it and expect good results. You may want to to focus your efforts on all the reasons why you should quit.
You can think about how your habits affect those around you. Maybe your spouse, girlfriend, friends, boyfriend or another person you care about is disgusted by your habit or cares about your health and wants you to quit.
Or you can focus on how unhealthy the habit is for you. Chewing tobacco not only causes bad breath, mouth soreness and stained teeth, but it also can cause you to lose your teeth over time, develop multiple types of cancer and suffer a heart attack, strokes and other cardiac problems.
You can also focus on how expensive the habit is. Many people spend upwards of $1,000 a year on chewing tobacco, not to mention all the medical costs they will have to pay once the long-term effects start to set in. It may not be quite as expensive as buying cigarettes, but it is still a costly habit, and it will only become more expensive over time.
Step 3: Cut Back
If you can quit cold turkey and just stop using chewing tobacco altogether, that is the best way to do it. But for those who are strongly addicted and have been using it for a while, it can be a difficult habit to break. You will have physical and mental cravings that compel you to come back to your habit, and it may not be possible or effective to quit all at once.
Instead, you might want to just cut back on how much tobacco you are using each day and week. You should really put your energy into reducing how much you use as you near your quit date. As difficult as it may be, there are plenty of ways you can reduce your intake.
First of all, you need to restrict yourself from using during certain times. Just tell yourself that you aren’t allowed to use at work or at your friend’s houses. Consign your use to only certain times of day or certain areas you frequent. This will help you achieve at least some control.
Also let your friends know that you are trying to quit. They can support you and ensure that you are sticking to your guns, so to speak. If you feel like you need to use some tobacco when you have already decided to cut back or quit, then call your friends or invite them to come over to offer you support and guidance.
You also need to be aware of what triggers your cravings. If it is being around certain friends who also use tobacco or certain stressful interactions, then you need to cut back on those. Knowing what causes you to use tobacco is one of the best steps to reduce how much you use.
Finally, make sure you are trying to quit at a time when there isn’t much stress in your life. Otherwise, you will have a hard time fighting the cravings and the stress.
Facts About Chewing Tobacco
In the United States, smokeless tobacco comes in two major types: snuff, and chewing tobacco. Snuff is usually finely ground tobacco that comes in small pouches while chewing tobacco can be in various forms such as loose leaf, plug, and twist. Terms spit tobacco and chewing tobacco are generally used to refer to smokeless tobacco.
- Chewing tobacco has at least 28 carcinogens while tobacco cigarettes have more than 70.
- Studies have shown that chewing tobacco can cause a variety of gum diseases, tooth decay and leukoplakia – a disease that forms light colored patches inside the mouth and can even lead to cancer.
- The chances of stillbirth and early delivery increase exponentially if the mother uses smokeless tobacco during the pregnancy
- According to careful estimates, about 3.5% of adults use some form of chewing tobacco, with men (6.8%) considerably stealing the larger portion of the percentage from women (0.4%). And when it comes to races, the American Indians/Alaska Natives make the largest portion (5.4%).
- Research shows that people who chew tobacco have a higher concentration of serum cotinine and NNAL than smokers, and dangerously high percentage of lead in blood than those who don’t use tobacco in any form.
- Long-term users of chewing tobacco are at a higher risk of head and neck cancer, some say even as compared to tobacco smokers.
How Chewing Tobacco is Produced
The process of making chewing tobacco can vary depending on the brand and flavor. It is made from the tobacco leaves and stem by shredding and grinding them, usually separately, as leaves are softer and grind at a different rate. The ground tobacco is then baked at a high temperature for a certain amount of time until it’s completely dry. Then artificial flavors and sweeteners are added to the dry tobacco, which readily absorbs them. The tobacco is then strained and placed in large containers, in a warm dark place for several days until the right level of moisture is left in it. The smokeless tobacco is ready for chewing and can be canned.
A Brief History of Chewing Tobacco
Leaf chewing tobacco has several names including chew, snuff, chaw, chow, daps, mouth tobacco or simply dip, and has a very long and rather interesting history. The method of chewing dates way back in the history, well into the era of Native Americans, both from north and south. The indigenous folks would chew the raw leaves – sometimes along with Lime – to extract nicotine. Usually, they would chew the tobacco straight from the plant, or sometimes would dry it in the sun.
When American colonists arrived, although they liked the feeling, but wanted to refine it and make it more palatable. Their basic problem with chewing the raw tobacco was its harsh flavor, and to make it mellow, they did two things. Firstly, they built special barns to dry tobacco with smoke and then added sweetness by soaking it in sugary water or Molasses. This made the flavor go through the roof and guess what, the basic recipe for making tobacco is still pretty much the same.
Earlier, chewing tobacco was mostly popular in southern America, but some later events help it spread across the country and even continents. The soldiers fighting in the fields had easy access to tobacco, and they brought it to their cities and homes when the war ended. The influx of Baseball took chewing tobacco’s popularity to a whole new level, as almost every player would chew tobacco, and this encouraged the spectators too. At one point, chewing tobacco became so popular that spittoon – a device for spitting the juices of chewed tobacco into – was considered ubiquitous part of every public and private place. Although you will see spittoons in museums only, however, some can also be found on the floor of the U.S. Senate’s old chamber.
Why Quit? The Dangers of Chewing Tobacco and Dipping
The dangers of chewing tobacco that can impact you physically, financially and emotionally are too many to list here, so let’s just focus on long-term and short-term health concerns of dipping.
It doesn’t take very long for chewing tobacco to start to have negative side effects. Because it injects nicotine directly into the bloodstream through the mouth, it starts the addiction process right away. Some researchers indicate that chewing tobacco is a lot more addictive than smoking and use of electronic cigarettes (also known as vaping). Some people will become severely addicted after just a few uses while others will be more resistant. But eventually, any user will suffer addiction to the nicotine within the tobacco.
Nicotine is an integral part of tobacco, and while it can be separated from the plant, it is usually left in to help turn consumers into loyal customers.
Chewing tobacco also causes many other immediate symptoms. These include bad breath, gingivitis, staining of teeth, mouth sores (extremely common), cavities and mouth ulcers. Those who use tobacco can quickly say goodbye to beautiful smiles and the full use of their mouth. Parts of their mouths will become extremely sore and tender, and it may make it difficult for them to eat certain foods.
Chewing tobacco also erodes their senses of taste and smell. Its overpowering effects essentially dull these sn4ses and make it more difficult for users to enjoy the foods they eat.
Chewing tobacco may also cause nausea and dizziness after a single use. This can lead to decreased athletic ability as users will no longer be able to function as they used to and push themselves as hard as they used to without feeling sick. They may also experience higher blood pressure that leads to many long-term health problems.
Some of the short-term effects develop into more serious long-term ones. Heart disease, cardiac arrest, and other similar conditions can be caused by high blood pressure. The decreased athletic ability of many users can cause them to be at risk for diabetes, even if the disease was not previously in their family.
The primary long-term effects of chewing tobacco include increased the risk for several different kinds of cancers, particularly oral cancers. Despite some popular belief to the contrary, not all carcinogens are caused by burning chemicals.
These cancers can affect all parts of the body which accommodate the chewing tobacco. That includes the mouth, gums, throat, larynx, pancreas and stomach, among others. The entire digestive system can be subject to high cancer risk when chewing tobacco is involved, and the longer the person uses chewing tobacco the greater their risk for one or more of these cancers is.
The short-term effects of gingivitis, bad breath, and other oral problems lead to eventual tooth decay and tooth loss. The gums may also decay through continual chewing tobacco use. Many people who use this product have very little of their original teeth intact and may be missing entire sections of teeth over time.
Leukoplakia is a condition characterized by lesions or open sores on the cheeks. There may also be tender, white patches on the mouth and cheeks. This condition is caused by chewing tobacco, and it becomes more severe after continued use. In some cases, the sores may become holes in the cheeks, and the skin of the cheeks may open up completely.
The sores can also appear on the tongue or gum, causing extreme pain during eating, brushing of teeth and talking.
Those who use chewing tobacco usually let the wad or plug sit on the inside of their cheek. If they use the same spot every time, it will quickly become a problem area, developing massive sores and tenderness and making it very difficult to use that part of the mouth.
There are some treatments for some of these long-term effects, but they usually involve replacing parts of the mouth or throat with false parts. Continued tobacco use may create a hole in the throat, which will make it impossible for the user to speak properly. This hole can be fitted with a speaking system which allows the user to be able to enjoy a semblance of speech once more.
Missing and decayed teeth may also be replaced with false teeth or dentures. After some time, very little of the user’s oral and digestive systems is still comprised of their original parts
Need more reasons?
- Dipping is a very expensive habit, although not as expensive as tobacco cigarettes. Depending on how much you chew, and the brand you prefer, it can cost as much as $2000 every year. And we aren’t even talking about the money you’ll need to spend on all the health issues you’ll have to face in the long run.
- Chewing tobacco is disgusting. While you might be enjoying it, others don’t find it attractive, to say the least. In fact, dipping is more disgusting than smoking as nobody is happy to see a weird thingy in your mouth and you spitting obnoxious fluid every once in a while. Discolored teeth, stains on your clothes, the smell, and whatnot, everything can turn you into a repulsive being nobody wants to see.
How Addicted Are You?
While you might not realize it, dip and chew contain many times more nicotine than tobacco cigarettes. For instance, holding a dip in your mouth for thirty minutes delivers as much nicotine as smoking three cigarettes. Likewise, if you chew two cans every week, it’s pretty much the same as smoking one and a half packs every single day.
The quick information above will give you a good idea of how addicted you are. But if you’re still unsure, consider the following questions:
- Within a few hours of chewing tobacco, you start feeling the urge to do it again?
- Do you go to the store as soon as the stash of tobacco ends?
- Do you chew tobacco in addition smoking cigarettes?
- Do your teeth, tongue, and inside of your mouth show signs that you chew tobacco?
- Do you no more feel the sting or dizziness of the dip, the way you used to feel when you initially started dipping?
- Have you changed brands to get higher levels of nicotine?
- Do you feel satisfied if you swallow juice?
- Do you sometimes fall asleep with tobacco in your mouth?
- Do you love chewing tobacco the first thing in the morning?
The 3-Week Plan for Quitting Chewing Tobacco
The first week is the hardest, and you’ll have to cope with the worst withdrawal symptoms. However, the good thing is that they don’t last too long, and the toughest part is over after just two weeks. Here are a few situations that you can find yourself in, and some suggestions how you should react:
- If cravings are getting out of hand, start doing something to keep dipping off your mind. A few things you can are is exercising, taking deep breaths, and talking to someone.
- If you feel that you’re getting angry without any real reason, or are being easily irritable, walk away into the open air and take long, deep breaths. Tell others that you’re going through a transition, and request them to be patient with you.
- You might feel physical disorders such as headaches or constipation. Eating fiber-rich foods, fresh fruit, veggies and whole grain bread can help.
- Nicotine speeds up metabolism, and sudden stoppage in supply of nicotine can result in weight gain. It’s good to work out an exercise routine if you don’t have one. Increasing your intake of water can also help; you should drink at least six to eight glasses of water every day.
Although things get better during the second week, but the tough period isn’t completely over yet. You have to stay strong as you’re almost there. Believe in yourself; you did it for one week, you can do it for another, and it’s this one is even easier. And don’t forget that after the second week, things will start to get better. While the first week was about coping with withdrawal symptoms, the second one is more about avoiding triggers that could lure you to chewing tobacco. Here are a few triggers and how you can avoid them:
- Cravings will still be there, but getting rid of them will be easier. They will be almost as strong as the first week, however, they will come less often and go away rather quickly. Avoid places, people and situations that could trigger cravings.
- Drinking alcoholic beverages will bust your plan to quit. Avoid hard drinks for at least two weeks from your quit day.
- As we mentioned earlier that everyone is unique, and will have unique triggers. It’s good to write down all your triggers, preferably in descending order, and then avoid them at all costs.
Congratulate yourself if you’ve made this far. After staying off for two weeks, you might still come face to face with occasional craving or trigger, but now you know you can beat the addiction. Not only it will become easy for you to fight addiction, but you will also start enjoying your tobacco-free life. You will start to see healthy changes in your body as well as in your behavior.
But what if you slip?
You shouldn’t slip in the first place after so much hard work, but in case you do, just get right back on track. Don’t consider one slip an excuse to start dipping again. If tobacco chewing has caused some physical damage to your body, don’t panic, just talk to your physician or dentist. Whatever you do to enjoy your new life, do it, just pledge that you’ll never take another dip again.