Types of smokeless tobacco and their impact on health

Smokeless tobacco products can cause health problems, just like cigarettes. Read on and learn about the risks associated with its consumption.

Last update: September 13, 2021

Currently, a wide variety of smokeless tobacco products can be found on the market. The most common are for chewing or snuffing, in the form of snuff powders. Influenced in part by sports culture, especially baseball, these have become quite popular.

In this regard, it is worth wondering if they contain the same substances as cigarettes or if they are less harmful. In turn, it should be noted that they are often promoted as an alternative to smoking, not so harmful to health, as they do not cause lung cancer.

In any case, consider that they also contain nicotine and various carcinogenic compounds, in addition to substances that cause bad breath, cavities, among other problems. What should you know about it? We will detail it below.

Different ways to use smokeless tobacco

In general, smokeless tobacco has been gaining popularity, as these products are offered as an alternative to nicotine, which can be used even in areas where smoking is prohibited. Today they are marketed and consumed in various types, although they are not as novel as some believe.

Snuff has been known in Europe since the 16th century, and the chew is even older; It was used by the American aborigines before the arrival of Columbus.

Chewing tobacco

Chewing tobacco comes in a variety of forms. The most popular are the following:

  • Braided (string) or compressed (pressed) leaves.
  • Dried leaf envelopes or wrappers (such as a tea bag).
  • Pasta.
  • Dark jelly.
  • Chewing gums.
  • Flavored candies.

Be that as it may, they are usually consumed by placing a portion inside the mouth, on the cheek, on the inside of the lower lip or on the gums. There it can be kept indefinitely, while chewing or sucking, and a part is spit out. Nicotine mixed with saliva is partly absorbed and partly ingested.

Chewing tobacco has become a very popular fad, even among young people. According to data provided by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), minors are consuming it more and more frequently.

On the one hand, young people like these products, since they are flavored and flavored. These characteristics are more attractive to new consumers, according to a report prepared by the organization Truth Initiative.

On the other hand, the fact that chewing tobacco is associated with the practice of professional sports, specifically baseball. On this, the Major League Baseball Organization has imposed restrictions on players and teams, who cannot provide these products to their members. Baseball players also cannot wear it on their uniforms or appear chewing tobacco on television.

Smokeless tobacco is not a substitute for cigarettes. In fact, it also causes several negative health effects.

Snuff tobacco

This smokeless tobacco is a powder that comes in cans or sachets. The user can place it in their mouth, but it is usually inhaled. In this case, the person takes a pinch with the thumb and index finger, places it in front of the nostril and inhales.

Although they look alike in the way of use, there is a difference between the so-called snuff and the one known as snus. The first came in fine strands; while the second is a ground powder, quite fine and dry. However, both are consumed equally.

Other forms of smokeless tobacco

Today, tobacco companies market other forms of smokeless tobacco. They can come in various presentations, such as the following:

  • Tablets.
  • Candies.
  • Balls.
  • Strips like chewing gum.
  • Rods like a toothpick.

They often add flavorings and sweeteners to them, so that they appear sweet. And as such they are consumed, since they are soluble. In this sense, are placed in the mouth and held until dissolvedThey are either chewed or sucked to release the nicotine.

They are somewhat similar to the nicotine lozenges used to help people quit smoking, only they serve the opposite purpose. In fact, this and other forms of smokeless tobacco can contain nicotine levels as high or higher than a cigarette, studies show.

Smokeless tobacco ingredients

Nicotine, as some know, is a stimulant, an alkaloid. Once absorbed into the bloodstream, it reaches the adrenal glands, where an adrenaline-releasing response is triggered.

Smokeless tobacco products contain even more nicotine than vapers. On average, there are between 10 and 12 milligrams in a cigarette, although this can vary from one brand to another; depending on the length, the type of tobacco used, the mixture, the filter, among other factors.

A whole can of chewing tobacco, 35 to 50 grams, it is equivalent to 12 or 14 cigarettes, that is, 140 milligrams of nicotine. On the other hand, this substance is also found in snuff snuff and soluble tobacco, in variable proportions; from 4 mg in lozenges, up to 17 mg in some dry snuff powders.

As if that were not enough, there are studies that indicate that smokeless tobacco products contain about 28 compounds that are potential carcinogens for the human being. These include the following:

  • Polynuclear or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
  • Polonium-210 (radioactive element).
  • Nitrosamines.
  • Aldehydes
  • Arsenic.
  • Lead.
  • Mercury.

Health Effects of Smokeless Tobacco

The nicotine present in chewing tobacco is absorbed through the tissues of the oral cavity, in the lingual plexuses. Then it passes into the bloodstream, and from there to the kidneys, brain, and other organs. And even if there is no smoke in the lungs, this does not mean that they are harmless. They are diverse the health problems that can cause.


When chewing tobacco, the absorption of nicotine is slower than when smoking. Thus, the maximum levels of this substance are reached in the blood within half an hour of ingestion. However, the amount at the end can be the same, and the chance of developing nicotine addiction will be the same, whatever the way of consuming it.

On the other hand, some research has found that the use of snus significantly increases the chances of developing addiction to smoking. And the younger this consumption begins, the greater the association between both variables.

Risk of poisoning

The candy-like appearance, aroma, and taste make some smokeless tobacco products attractive to children. But its intake at these ages can cause the following side effects:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing.

According to a study shared in Tobacco Regulatory Science, in 15 years (2001-2016) more than 120,000 cases of nicotine poisoning were recorded.


Studies show that smokeless tobacco products tend to have high levels of carcinogens. These elements even come into direct contact with the lining of the mouth. Therefore, they have been linked to an increased risk of cancer in the oral cavity, throat, esophagus and pancreas.

Similarly, it has been found that the risk of cancer in smokeless tobacco users is much higher than in non-smokers, although in turn it is lower than that of smokers. These results are supported by laboratory and clinical studies in animals.

Heart disease

Research on the subject suggests that consuming these products can speed up your heart rate and raise your blood pressure. In the long term, it increases the chances of developing heart disease and stroke.

Risks for pregnancy

Chew tobacco during pregnancy can carry the same risks as smoking regarding fetal health. In other words, it increases the risk of stillbirth, premature delivery, heart problems and low birth weight.

Oral health

Tooth decay, bad breath, tooth stains, gum disease, leukoplakia, among other problems, can be enhanced by direct and repeated contact with smokeless tobacco. Not to mention that some of these products also contain sugar.

Smokeless tobacco also affects tooth decay and oral health problems.

How to cut down on smokeless tobacco

If you are a regular chewing tobacco user and are considering quitting, go to your doctor for guidance about what you can do about withdrawal, in the first few moments. It is also convenient to apply the following:

  • Supportive therapy, with behavioral professionals.
  • Support groups (also known as twelve step groups).
  • Nicotine replacement, with gum, lozenges, or patches, to help you manage withdrawal symptoms.
  • Medications, such as bupropion and varenicline (but they can only be taken with a prescription and by prescription).
  • Support from family and friends.

Chewing tobacco, like other addictions, It is something that can be overcome, if you put your mind to it. It is the best for your health.

Neither smoke nor smokeless tobacco

According to the World Health Organization, smoking kills more than 8 million people a year. Although a major fight against smoking has been undertaken, there have been no major campaigns for smokeless tobacco. There are no laws restricting its use in public places.

It may even be thought that chewing tobacco is less harmful than smoking, since it does not cause smoke and does not produce the same risk of lung cancer. However, it has been found to lead to serious health problems.

And while the idea that smokeless tobacco can be a replacement therapy for nicotine has been spread, this is just a baseless idea. The remedy may be worse than the disease. The only way to avoid the health problems caused by smoking is to completely quit smoking.