Chewing Tobacco Facts and Myths

Kathleen Esposito
Chewing tobacco packets

There is a lot of misinformation floating around about chewing tobacco. For example, many think that it is safer and less addictive than smoking. It's important to separate the facts from the myths, whether you are a "dip" user or someone you care about is.

Myths and Facts About the Product

Myth: All chewing tobacco is basically the same.

Fact: There are actually several types of chewing tobacco.

  • Traditional chewing tobacco is large tobacco pieces, either leaves, twists or wads. It is typically held between the cheek and teeth and later spit out.
  • Snuff is ground up tobacco powder that is stored in a tin. It's usually placed in the mouth between the lower lip and gum or in the cheek, where it slowly absorbs into the tissue. It comes in both moist and dry varieties, and the moist type sometimes comes in a sachet.
  • Snus is a form of snuff produced in Scandinavia. It is produced using a special steam-heating process, and some argue it contains less carcinogens than American snuff.

Myth: Chewing tobacco is just like chewing gum.

Fact: It's actually not like gum at all. Most people don't chew on the tobacco; they simply hold it in their mouths and suck on its juices, which allows them to be absorbed. When users spit, they are not spitting out a gum-like substance. They're spitting out the excess saliva that builds up in the mouth.

Myths and Facts About Using Chewing Tobacco

Myth: Chewing tobacco is a habit for older people.

Fact: According to the American Cancer Society, 46% of users started when they were 18 years old or younger.

Myth: Smokeless tobacco is not very popular.

Fact: Over 10 million Americans use smokeless tobacco, including over 20% of male high school students. The highest concentration of users is in rural areas.

Myths and Facts About the Dangers of Chewing Tobacco

Myth: Chewing tobacco is a safe alternative to cigarettes.

Fact: While chewing tobacco does not damage the lungs, as cigarettes can, its use is certainly not safe. The National Cancer Institute lists some of the risks as:

  • Oral cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Gum disease
  • Oral lesions

Chronic use can also lead to tooth loss.

Myth: Chewing tobacco is not as addictive as cigarettes.

Fact: According to the Mayo Clinic, chewing tobacco can actually be just as addictive as other tobacco products. It contains nicotine, just as cigarettes do, which is absorbed through pores in the gums.

Myth: Brushing and flossing can counteract the negative health effects.

Fact: Not so, according to the Wisconsin Dental Association. The chemicals contained in the chewing tobacco can actually alter the cells in your gum tissue. Brushing and flossing only work on the surface.

Breaking the Chewing Tobacco Habit

Quitting chewing tobacco can be tough, just like quitting cigarettes. There is no conclusive evidence on which is actually more difficult, but you can get help for both by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

Chewing Tobacco Facts and Myths