Monday, May 10, 2010
Health risks of chewing tobacco and other forms of smokeless tobacco
While the available evidence shows that smokeless tobacco may be less dangerous than cigarettes are, long-term use of chewing tobacco and other smokeless tobacco products can cause serious health problems. That's because they can contain about 30 cancer-causing substances. Like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco also contains nicotine, which can cause you to become addicted. Here's a look at some of the health problems related to smokeless tobacco:
Because smokeless tobacco contains nicotine, you can get addicted, just as you can with cigarettes and other tobacco products. Your body may actually absorb more nicotine from chewing tobacco or snuff than it does from a cigarette. Just as with smoking, withdrawal from smokeless tobacco causes signs and symptoms such as intense cravings, increased appetite, irritability and depressed mood. Also, over time, you develop a tolerance for the nicotine in chewing tobacco and other smokeless tobacco products, and you need more to feel the desired effects. This may lead you to dangerous habits — using brands with more nicotine, using more often, leaving chew in your mouth overnight and swallowing tobacco juices.
Your risk of certain types of cancer increases if you use chewing tobacco or other types of smokeless tobacco. This includes esophageal cancer and various types of oral cancer, including cancers of your mouth, throat, cheek, gums, lips and tongue. Surgery to remove cancer from any of these areas can leave your jaw, chin, neck or face disfigured, and the cancer may be life-threatening. You also face increased risks related to pancreatic cancer and kidney cancer.
Chewing tobacco and other forms of smokeless tobacco cause tooth decay. That's because chewing tobacco contains high amounts of sugar, which contributes to cavities. Chewing tobacco also contains coarse particles that can irritate your gums and scratch away at the enamel on your teeth, making your teeth more vulnerable to cavities.
The sugar and irritants in chewing tobacco and other forms of smokeless tobacco can cause your gums to pull away from your teeth in the area of your mouth where you place the chew. Over time you can develop gum disease (gingivitis), which can lead to periodontitis and tooth loss. And like cigarettes, chewing tobacco and other smokeless products can stain your teeth and cause bad breath.
Smokeless tobacco increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Some evidence suggests that long-term use of smokeless tobacco increases your risk of dying of certain types of heart disease and stroke.
Precancerous mouth lesions
Smokeless tobacco increases your risk of developing small white patches called leukoplakia (loo-ko-PLAY-kee-uh) inside your mouth where the chew is most often placed. These mouth lesions are precancerous — meaning that the lesions could one day become cancer. If you stop using smokeless tobacco products, the lesions usually go away within a few months.
Quitting chewing tobacco and other forms of smokeless tobacco
If you use chewing tobacco or other forms of smokeless tobacco, quit. Now that you know the dangers associated with it, you have extra motivation to stop using smokeless tobacco. And if you're trying to stop using cigarettes, don't switch to smokeless tobacco instead. While smokeless tobacco may be safer than cigarettes, smokeless tobacco hasn't been shown to help you stop smoking. In fact, you may end up using both cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.