Smokeless Tobacco Addiction and Treatment

chewing-tobaccoAccording to the American Cancer Society, about 9 million people use smokeless tobacco, accounting for approximately 3.5% of the total US population.

Smokeless tobacco use has been proven to cause nicotine addiction, bringing highly concentrated nicotine levels, higher than what is absorbed from smoking cigarettes, into the blood stream.

Due to its highly addictive properties and ingredients, smokeless tobacco users experience high relapse rates. This is unsurprising with record-high spending for smokeless tobacco marketing done by huge tobacco companies on the side. Nonetheless, with sufficient and effective methods, quitting smokeless tobacco can be done successfully.

What is smokeless tobacco?

Smokeless tobacco, unlike cigarettes, is used or consumed without undergoing combustion. Because there is no burning and smoking that takes place, many people wrongly believe that smokeless tobacco use is less harmful than, or considered a healthier substitute, for tobacco cigarettes.

There are two types of smokeless tobacco:

  1. Spit tobacco

spit-tobaccoAlso called chewing tobacco, spit tobacco is sold or used as loose leaf, twist, or plug products that are chewed, sucked, and placed in between the cheek and gums.

  1. Snuff

snuff-tobaccoThere are two kinds of snuff sold on the market today: dry and moist. Dry Snuff is powdered tobacco that is inhaled through the nose. Moist snuff is chewed and placed between the gum and cheek, like spit tobacco, only finer and smaller in packaging. Moist snuff is marketed as “spit-free” to provide more convenience for users.

The most popular brands that sell smokeless tobacco (referred to by some as dip and chew and snuff) are Skoal, Copenhagen, Grizzly, Levi Garrett, and Red Man, among others. Most of these brands, like Skoal, are owned by big tobacco companies that are seriously investing in their highly hazardous and cancer-causing products. A can of dip is sold at almost $3 each.

Data and Statistics

It is no longer a mystery as to whether tobacco use alone, without combustion, is dangerous to the health. For years, it has been established by scientific research and studies that tobacco contains nicotine, a substance that is addictive and is linked to different heart conditions. Studies even show that ‘tobacco is deadly in any form or disguise’. Mere physical contact with tobacco plants before and during harvest causes various illnesses of the lungs, heart, and other organs of the body.

For more information on the effects of smokeless tobacco, check our article here.

Apart from the fact that smokeless tobacco is used by 3.5% of the total US population, it has been recorded that more than 5.5% of people aged 18 to 25 years old use the product. The average age at which smokeless tobacco users first try the product is 12 years old. The same survey found that almost half of the total number of new users in the same year started using smokeless tobacco as minors.

The 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey results show that more male high school students used the product compared to female. The same survey found that 2% of male children and 1% of female children in middle school have tried smokeless tobacco at least once in the last 30 days prior to the survey. There is no wondering about these numbers since smokeless tobacco products are available in candy-like flavors that are very appealing to small children.

There are many factors as to why smokeless tobacco has conquered the market today, with increasing sales and profits that big tobacco companies acquire through these products. One of the recently seen reasons why smokeless tobacco is now on the rise is the ban on smoking tobacco. Subsequent to this occurrence, tobacco manufacturers invested $250 million, at the very least in 2005, to promote these “anytime, anywhere” tobacco products that are “healthier substitutes to cigarettes”.

Nowadays, there is also an increase in online marketing via websites for different smokeless tobacco brands. Despite the existence of tobacco marketing restriction laws like The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the Internet gives tobacco companies a huge platform to ‘creatively promote their products’. YouTube and other social media platforms are being used to advertise, blatantly or not, smokeless tobacco products to audiences of all ages, especially the youth.

Smokeless Tobacco Addiction: How to know if you are Getting Hooked

With all that has been said, it is not shocking to know that more and more people are getting addicted to nicotine with the use of smokeless tobacco. Nicotine, according to scientists, is as addictive as heroin. It is easily absorbed into the bloodstream and reaches the brain within seconds upon intake. For smokeless tobacco users, a more concentrated, higher amount of nicotine is introduced with every round of chewing.

It always depends on how long you keep the tobacco inside your mouth and how much you consume within a particular period. It also depends on how you use the product to know how deep you have gone in terms of being addicted. Apart from the nicotine that keeps users chewing and spitting, smokeless tobacco contains 28 other cancerous chemicals that make it another piece of junk that should be ditched at the soonest possible time.

Moreover, while some people can use tobacco products, chewed or smoked, occasionally without being addicted, most become regular users and eventually suffer from nicotine dependence. To know whether you are a smokeless tobacco addict, check if you pass for the following:

  1. Feels obligated to chew after a few hours or every meal
  2. Wants to quit, but cannot stop chewing despite attempts
  3. Experiences withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, increased heart rate, anxiety, irritability, depression, restlessness when trying to quit
  4. Cannot participate in events or occasions where tobacco-use is banned
  5. Uses tobacco to “relax” after or during a stressful event

Smokeless tobacco addiction works in the same way cigarette smoking addiction does. Having a dose of nicotine for the first time makes the user feel dizzy, lightheaded, and sick. However, the more nicotine is consumed, the most the brain is signaled to release dopamine and adrenaline. A heightened production of both brain chemicals instigates a feeling of being energized and satisfied.

After two hours or so, the level of nicotine in the body decreases. This prompts the user to consume another round of smokeless tobacco. At the same time, nicotine tolerance gradually increases, therefore requiring more nicotine intake to produce the same amount of chemicals in the brain.

When a user experiences stressful events, having a round of nicotine makes him or her feel better momentarily. When the effects of the nicotine wear out, he or she will have to chew another round of smokeless tobacco to feel relaxed and better.

Like tobacco cigarettes, smokeless tobacco makes certain food groups taste better. Caffeine, alcohol, and salty food enhance the taste of dip and chew, and vice versa. It is no wonder that getting addicted to smokeless tobacco often means taking too much caffeine, drinking alcoholic beverages often, and an unhealthy diet as well. Smokeless tobacco addict also often smoke cigarettes in between, whenever they run out of dip, or in cases when their peers are smoking.

Altogether, this makes a disastrous combination that heightens the chances of developing cancer and other fatal health conditions. It may start out as a simple mouth sore and receding gum but may turn out to a life-threatening condition in the long run.

Quitting the Habit: Fighting the Urge using Different Methods

Before it is too late, it is important to know how to stop the addiction. Smokeless tobacco use is as harmful as other tobacco products, and should be fought for as long as every man has the right to live.

There are different methods that can be used in quitting smokeless tobacco. Some use nicotine replacement products and therapies, support groups, behavioral therapies, or tobacco cessation aids such as e-cigarettes and vaporizers.

To summarize a few techniques that previous smokeless tobacco users used:

  1. Set a quit date two weeks from today and try ‘weaning yourself’ slowly during the grace period. Lower down your consumption levels and wait for a few minutes or hours before giving in to cravings. Redo your routine so that new physical activities are introduced to replace the times when you regularly chew tobacco (e.g. after meals).
  2. Avoid hanging out with users who are not trying to quit. On the other hand, it will be very helpful if you find someone who is willing to quit the habit at the same time.
  3. Get rid of any stock that you have at home.
  4. Use hard candy, sugarless gum, sunflower seeds, or beef jerky to replace the oral fixation that you have probably developed. Never use cigarettes to substitute your cravings.
  5. Avoid circumstances that lead to ‘chewing’.
  6. Practice handling stressful events without giving in to the cravings. Breathe in deeply through your nose, and exhale through the mouth several times. A good exercise produces adrenaline and the same happy hormones that make you feel happy and hyped up.
  7. Eat healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, which often make tobacco less tasty. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and salty foods, on the other hand.
  8. Get all the support that you can from your family, relatives, friends, and even your physician.
  9. Set anti-tobacco house rules that all visitors must follow.
  10. Never agree to pick-up a can of dip for anyone else, ever. Save yourself from giving in to cravings, and save your friend from a life full of hazards in the future.

The most suitable method differs with every person, but the very foundation of quitting the habit has the willpower to do so. Start by pointing out the reason/s why you should quit. It can be your health, your children, your wife, your career, or your relatives. Regardless of the reason, set a quit date and identify ways on how you can finally let go of smokeless tobacco use by then.

Smokeless tobacco cessation is just as hard as smoking cessation. You may experience a relapse a couple of times, but you must never give up for the sake of your health. Try a different method in case you slip, as there are plenty of ways to start over and succeed.