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Smokeless Tobacco


WebMD Feature

Watch any baseball team at game time, and chances are you'll see players using smokeless tobacco. How do you recognize them? Look for a large lump on their cheeks, and watch them continually spit on the ground to rid their mouths of the excess saliva. Sound pleasant? Probably not!

Here are some questions and answers about smokeless tobacco:

Q. What Is Smokeless Tobacco?

A. Chewing tobacco and snuff are the two main types of smokeless tobacco. Chewing tobacco usually comes in leaves or plugs that users put in their cheek pouches and then chew. Snuff is finely ground tobacco that users put between their gums and cheeks.

Many people believe that smokeless tobacco is not dangerous, but that is not true. Smokeless tobacco has many bad side effects and serious health risks, including cancer and even death.

Q Is Smokeless Tobacco Addictive?

A. Yes. Like cigarettes, chewing tobacco and snuff contain nicotine - a highly addictive drug. Because the nicotine is absorbed into the bloodstream from the mouth, it takes longer to reach the brain. Smokeless tobacco users do not feel the effects of the nicotine as fast as cigarette users do. But about the same amount of nicotine enters their bloodstreams.

Nicotine works by making the brain release adrenaline-like compounds(such as norepinephrine). These "excitatory" neurotransmitters get your body revved up. (You have probably heard the term "get your adrenaline pumping.") Many people enjoy this feeling, but not the feeling that comes after it. After the nicotine is gone, and the brain stops releasing the positive neurotransmitters, smokeless tobacco users feel tired, depressed, and down.

Nicotine also causes the brain to release a chemical called dopamine. Other very addictive drugs like cocaine make the brain release dopamine, too. Even though dopamine makes you feel very good, drugs that make the brain release it are highly addictive.

About 35 million tobacco users try to quit every year. Only 1 out of every 15 people who try quitting actually succeeds for more than a month.

Q.What Are the Health Risks of Smokeless Tobacco?

A. The most noticeable side effects are stained teeth and poor dental health. Although these are not usually life threatening, dental problems are painful, expensive, and may hurt your social life. Chewing tobacco and snuff can turn your teeth yellowish-brown and give you bad breath. They can also make your gums bleed and create sores on your gums and inside your mouth that refuse to heal.

The most serious health risk associated with smokeless tobacco is cancer. Smokeless tobacco products contain at least 28 cancer-causing chemicals. Over time, these chemicals increase your risk of cancers in the mouth and throat. If you use smokeless tobacco, talk to your doctor about checking for any precancerous lesions.

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