Chewing tobacco isn't as bad for you as cigarettes, but it's still very bad for you and can result in a wide range of unwanted health effects from gum disease to cancer.
Chewing tobacco contains carcinogens. Using it increases your risks of several different kinds of cancer. According to the Mayo Clinic, it increases your chance of contracting mouth cancer, throat cancer, cancer of the lips and gums, and cancer of the cheek or tongue. Cigarettes are more carcinogenic, but smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative.
Most kinds of chewing tobacco have lots of sugar added for flavor. That sugar is food for the bacteria in your mouth - they'll release acids that corrode the protective coating on your teeth. That's how you get cavities. Chewing tobacco often contains particles that are large enough to wear on that protective coating. If you use chewing tobacco, you're putting yourself at increased risk for cavities.
If you chew tobacco, your gums will slowly recede from your teeth in the part of your mouth where you hold your chew. This can turn into gum disease after enough time passes - the bones in your jaw will start to get softer and there's a chance that you'll eventually suffer from tooth loss. Sometimes, chewing tobacco can lead to pale, precancerous spots on the inside of your mouth. These lesions aren't cancerous yet, but they could turn into cancer.
Nicotine is a stimulant. It increases your heart rate and your blood pressure. Do it for long enough, and you might start to see long-term changes to your heart health. Some research has linked nicotine to heart disease, although the science isn't yet definitive.
If you don't smoke, there are few upsides to chewing tobacco. If you do smoke, however, chewing tobacco seems to be a safer alternative. Estimates on how much safer vary - the London Royal College of Physicians told ABC that it's ten times safer than cigarettes; the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported it to be fifty times safer, or 2% as dangerous. Although your risk of contracting mouth cancers are higher with chewing tobacco, it's missing the smoke - by far the most lethal element of cigarettes.
In Sweden, use of a kind of chewing tobacco called snus has led to a significant drop-off in rates of lung cancer. Snus is tobacco that comes in a small pouch that you put in your mouth. There’s less need to spit out tobacco juice with snus. Snus is still carcinogenic, however - while safer than conventional chewing tobacco or smoking cigarettes, it still increases your chances of contracting various cancers of the mouth or throat, does long-term damage to your teeth, and puts strain on your heart and cardiovascular system. If you’re looking to quit smoking, consider trying nicotine lozenges or gums instead.
Possible short-term side effects
- increased blood pressure
- increased heart rate
- constricted blood vessels
Possible long-term side effects
- various forms of cancer
- cavities and gum disease
- tooth loss
- precancerous lesions in mouth
- heart disease
- heart attack
Ingredients to be aware of
- nicotine lozenges or gums
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Written by Sean McNulty | 10-09-2016
Written by Sean McNulty
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