How to Quit Chewing Tobacco

Kathleen Esposito
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
How to Quit Chewing Tobacco infographic
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Many addiction specialists say it's more difficult to quit using chewing tobacco than it is to quit smoking. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this is because chewing tobacco puts more nicotine into your bloodstream than cigarettes. However, quitting your use of smokeless tobacco is an important step you can take toward a healthier lifestyle, and plenty of people before you have succeeded in breaking the habit. What you need is a plan to help you make it through those first difficult weeks.

Preparing to Give Up Chewing Tobacco

Most tobacco chewers decide to quit using smokeless tobacco because of its detrimental health effects, and this reason can serve as a good reminder to you throughout the quitting process. However, that reason alone may not be enough to help you quit, so some preparation is also recommended.

1. Cut Back on Chewing

California Smoker's Helpline offers some helpful advice; two or three weeks before you want to quit, you might find it helpful to switch to a brand of smokeless tobacco that contains a lower dose of nicotine than your usual brand. Alternatively, you can simply cut the amount you chew by half. If you're going the lower-nicotine route, don't compensate by using more. You can also quit cold turkey if you feel you have the willpower to do so.

2. Stock the Pantry

A lot of people who attempt to quit chewing tobacco feel the need to have something in their mouths to control cravings. Using a safe substitute can help. When you throw out the chew, fill your cabinets with other options. American Family Physician recommends the following:

  • Beef jerky
  • Sugarless gum
  • Hard candy
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Tobacco-free mint snuff

Other choices include raisins, dried fruit, nuts, carrot sticks and celery. Try to avoid a lot of sweets.

3. Decide on a Quit Date

Becomeanex.org, a free smoking cessation plan, recommends setting a deadline to quit and marking it on your calendar. A deadline can help prevent backsliding, especially if you share your quit date with other people you know will hold you accountable. To help lower the risk of relapse, it's best to avoid choosing a stressful time to quit, such as the week you start a new job. Once you have a date, circle it on your calendar.

4. Talk to Your Doctor

Nicotine patches and gum are not just for cigarette smokers; they are for anyone who is physically dependent on nicotine. Together, you and your doctor can decide if nicotine replacement therapy is right for you.

Getting Through the First Week

The first week can be tough, and it is easy to backslide without a plan. The following steps can help you resist temptation.

1. Monitor Cravings

When you have the urge to use tobacco, write down what you are doing and how you are feeling on the this handy chart on the right, which you can download with Adobe. This will help you pinpoint times you'll most likely have a craving, as well as other triggers, and help you figure out what works best for getting through them. Next, sit down and breathe deeply for five minutes. Most likely, the craving will pass.

2. Manage Withdrawal

You will likely feel irritable or tense when you first quit because your brain's not used to the absence of the drug. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), other withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Slowed heart rate

Ask family, friends and coworkers to bear with you during this time, and try to increase your exercise level. Even a short walk can help you feel better.

3. Eat More Fiber

You may get the urge to chew tobacco when you feel hungry, but try eating something healthy instead. Fiber-rich foods can fill you up and also help combat weight gain, another ACS documented withdrawal symptom. This is the perfect time to make use of all those great healthy snacks you now have in your pantry!

Surviving the Second Week and Beyond

It's likely your withdrawal will have subsided by week two. Now, the goal is relapse prevention.

Avoid Your Triggers

Avoid places and events that bring on a desire to chew tobacco, such as parties, baseball games, etc. You may also need to avoid friends you used to chew with who will probably offer it to you. According to the Mayo Clinic, these triggers will likely make you want to use again. Additionally, do not drink alcohol if that was part of your chewing routine, even if you are not alcohol dependent.

Adopt a Healthier Habit

Replace your tobacco chewing habit permanently with something more positive. This can be as simple as chewing sugar-free gum instead of tobacco. You might also make a more dramatic change, such as taking up competitive running to relieve stress you used to deal with by chewing. The point is to replace a negative habit with a positive one.

Quit Until It Sticks

Be patient with yourself. Most people who give up chewing tobacco don't do it perfectly the first time. If you slip up during the second week, or even further down the road, just quickly get back on track. Throw your remaining tobacco in the trash, and don't buy more. If you find yourself lapsing repeatedly, you may want to begin again by forming a new quit plan with your doctor and joining a support group.

How to Quit Chewing Tobacco