There are two forms of spit tobacco: chewing tobacco and snuff. Chewing tobacco is usually sold as leaf tobacco (packaged in a pouch) or plug tobacco (in brick form) and both are put between the cheek and gum. Users keep chewing tobacco in their mouths for several hours to get a continuous high from the nicotine in the tobacco. Snuff is a powdered tobacco (usually sold in cans) that is put between the lower lip and the gum. Just a pinch is all that’s needed to release the nicotine, which is then swiftly absorbed into the bloodstream, resulting in a quick high.
Keep in mind that the spit tobacco contains many chemicals that can have a harmful effect on your health including:
Polonium 210 (nuclear waste)
Formaldehyde (embalming fluid)
Nicotine (addictive drug)
Cadmium (used in car batteries)
Lead (nerve poison)
The chemicals contained in chew or snuff are what make you high. They also make it very hard to quit. Each time you use smokeless tobacco your body adjusts to the amount of tobacco needed to get that high. Then you need a little more tobacco to get the same feeling. Because your body gets used to the chemicals you give it. Pretty soon you’ll need more smokeless tobacco, more often or you’ll need stronger spit tobacco to reach the same level. This process is called addiction.
Physical and Mental Effects of Spit Tobacco
Cancer. Cancers of the throat and mouth including the lip, tongue, and cheek. This can lead to removal of parts of the face, tongue, cheek or lips.
Leukoplakia. When you hold tobacco in one place in your mouth, your mouth becomes irritated by the tobacco juice. This causes a white, leathery like patch to form and this is called leukoplakia. These patches can be different in size, shape, and appearance. They are also considered pre-cancerous. If you find one in your mouth, seek medical attention immediately.
Heart Disease. The constant flow of nicotine into your body causes many side effects including increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and sometimes irregular heart beats which can lead to a greater risk of heart attacks or strokes. Nicotine in the body also causes constricted blood vessels which can slow down reaction time and cause dizziness.
Gum and Tooth Disease. Spit tobacco permanently discolors teeth. Chewing tobacco causes halitosis (bad breath). Its direct and repeated contact with the gums causes them to recede, which can cause your teeth to fall out. Spit tobacco contains a lot of sugar which, when mixed with the plaque on your teeth, forms acid that eats away at tooth enamel, causes cavities and chronic painful sores.
Social Effects. The bad breath, discolored teeth, tobacco stuck in your teeth and constant spitting can have a very negative effect on your social and love life.
Early Warning Signs
Check your mouth often, looking closely at the places where you hold the tobacco. See your doctor right away if you have any of the following:
A sore that bleeds easily and doesn’t heal
A lump or thickening anywhere in your mouth or neck
Soreness or swelling that doesn’t go away
A red or white patch that doesn’t go away
Trouble chewing, swallowing or moving your tongue or jaw
Even if you don’t find a problem today, see your physician or dentist every three months to have your mouth checked. Your chances for a cure are higher if oral cancer is found early.
Tips to Quit
Even though it is very difficult to quit using spit tobacco, it can be done. Most people don’t start chewing on their own, so don’t try quitting on your own. Ask for help and positive reinforcement from your support groups.
Pick a quit date and throw out all your chewing tobacco and snuff. Tell yourself out loud every day that you’re going to quit.
Ask your support groups to help you kick the habit by giving you support and encouragement. Tell friends not to offer you smokeless tobacco and ask a friend to quit with you.
Ask your physician about a nicotine chewing gum tobacco cessation program or find other alternatives to spit tobacco. A few good examples are sugarless gum, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, apple slices, raisins or dried fruit.
Find activities to keep your mind off of spit tobacco. You could ride a bike, talk or write a letter to a friend, work on a hobby, or listen to music. Exercise can help relieve tension caused by quitting.
Remember that everyone is different, so develop a personalized plan that works best for you. Set realistic goals and achieve them.
Reward yourself. You could save the money that would have been spent on spit tobacco products and buy something nice for yourself.
Lexington Clinic is Central Kentucky’s largest and oldest medical group. With 200+ providers in more than 30 specialties, we have been taking care of 600,000+ patients annually in the Lexington community since 1920.