What is chewing tobacco?

Chewing tobacco is a smokeless tobacco product. It contains tobacco, but it is not burned like a traditional cigarette. While there are a variety of smokeless tobacco products, chewing tobacco and snuff are the most commonly used products. Both products contain dried tobacco leaf, and are usually placed inside of the mouth between the user’s gum and cheek. Users then suck on the tobacco and spit out the resulting juice, which is why it is sometimes called chew or spit tobacco.

What’s the problem with chewing tobacco?

People are aware of the dangers of cigarette use, but often underestimate the potential harm of chewing tobacco. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chewing tobacco has 28 cancer-causing chemicals and is associated with oral (mouth) cancers. Nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes, is also found in smokeless tobacco products and many of the challenges in quitting are the same.

It is estimated that only 3 percent of adults in the United States use smokeless tobacco. In contrast, 8 percent of high school students report being current smokeless tobacco users. Although this may sound like a relatively small number, research shows that teens who use smokeless tobacco products are more likely to become regular cigarette smokers later in life.

How can I help my teen?

There are a few things you can do if you are concerned about smokeless tobacco use and your teen. First, clarify for them that smokeless tobacco is not safe. Sometimes movies or music will glamorize tobacco use. These are great opportunities to discuss the differences between what happens on a screen and what the real-life consequences of tobacco use are.

If you are concerned that your child might have an addiction and needs help quitting, talk with your child’s physician. There may be other free cessation resources available in your community. Visit teen.smokefree.gov for tips and tricks that might help them quit.  


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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