Smokeless Tobacco: Safer or Still Risky?

The use of smokeless tobacco has grown over the last few years, primarily in the under 21 age group. As smoking has been socially less acceptable and the overwhelming amount of evidence of tobacco’s serious health effects are slowly acknowledged, tobacco companies have spent increasing amounts of advertising dollars on smokeless tobacco.

A significant portion of those users are adolescent males, and their numbers are growing by 30-50% since 2006. Of the estimated 10 million users of smokeless tobacco, 3 million are under the age of 21. Young users start as early as the sixth grade and are regular consumers by high school. The Center for Disease Control reports that the largest increases in smokeless tobacco use has been in the 18-24 age group.

A Lesson from the Pastphoto © 2010 Ted | more info (via: Wylio)

Smokeless tobacco contains nicotine and around 30 cancer-causing substances just like tobacco that is smoked. A common misconception is it is somehow different or safer. Nicotine is rapidly absorbed through the mucosa in the mouth, easily attaining higher and possibly longer-lasting nicotine levels than cigarette smoking. Manufacturers have packaged, flavored and marketed their smokeless products to entice young people. Due to the addictive nature of nicotine, surveys show that users commonly move to higher levels of use due to their increasing tolerance.

Many of these users simply do not understand the serious risks that ingesting tobacco retains. In many respects, it is equal to or worse than smoking tobacco.

The World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer reported in 2008 that those who ingest tobacco have an 80% higher risk of developing oral cancer and 60% higher risk of contracting pancreatic and esophageal cancer. The high risks of developing ulcers of the esophagus or stomach, heart disease, high blood pressure, fetal abnormalities if used during pregnancy, are the same as smoking tobacco.

Smokeless tobacco wreaks havoc on the teeth, tongue and gums. More tooth decay and oral ulcers are common. A precancerous condition known as leukoplakia occurs in about half of all users within the first three years of regular use. If these white patches or plaques are identified early, it may be treated if tobacco use is stopped.

Quitting smokeless tobacco can be just as difficult as smoking due to the addiction to nicotine. The same options are available to users such as nicotine replacement products. Consult your healthcare provider to see if one of the prescription medications and counseling can help you quit.

Nicotine is a strong addiction and is difficult to overcome; nonetheless, it can be done with an organized approach. The profound and devastating health problems are entirely avoidable.

– Dr. Bruce Kaler

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