Whether you are looking for advice on how to quit chewing tobacco or want to help a loved one kick the habit, an important first step is learning about the negative health and personal impacts of this tobacco product.
Chewing tobacco, which is chewed or held in the mouth between the cheek and gum, is a form of smokeless tobacco. Other types of smokeless tobacco include snuff, which is powdered dry tobacco typically inhaled through the nostrils, and snus, moist snuff placed inside the mouth.
Like cigarettes and other forms of tobacco, smokeless tobacco contains nicotine and other ingredients that negatively impact health. According to the American Lung Association, chewing tobacco contains at least 28 chemicals that can lead to various illnesses, including mouth, esophageal, and pancreatic cancers, gum disease, and tooth decay and loss.
Individuals can improve their health and reduce their risk of contracting these and other diseases by quitting chewing tobacco. However, nicotine is an addictive chemical that makes it difficult for users to quit. According to the Mayo Clinic, users trying to quit smokeless tobacco products like chewing tobacco often have the same withdrawal symptoms as those experienced by smokers.
This guide contains resources that can help individuals looking for information on how to quit chewing tobacco, whether for themselves or to share with others.
What to Consider Before Quitting Chewing Tobacco
Individuals who chew tobacco have different stories about how they started the habit. Some people were pressured by peers to chew tobacco. Others started chewing as an alternative to cigarettes. Whatever the reasons for using chewing tobacco, it is never too late to try to quit. Reasons to consider quitting chewing tobacco are cited below.
Reasons for Quitting
A top reason to quit chewing tobacco is improving your overall health and minimizing your risk of getting ailments such as leukoplakia, a mucous membrane disorder characterized by white patches on the cheek or tongue that can lead to cancer. Nicotine use also can result in high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Moreover, quitting chewing tobacco will help improve the appearance of your teeth and gums. Besides health and good looks, individuals may want to quit chewing tobacco to set an example for children or simply to stop an addiction to a substance that can only negatively impact their life. Whatever the reasons for quitting, it’s important to keep them in mind when quitting to remain motivated to succeed.
Pick a Quit Date
As the adage goes: “There's no time like the present”. When it comes to quitting chewing tobacco, any day is good. However, going "cold turkey"—abruptly abstaining from chewing tobacco—may not work. Instead, gradually tapering off in advance of a quit date may be a more realistic strategy. Before the quit date, change your routines, avoid chewing tobacco triggers, and carry substitutes, like hard candy or sunflower seeds, that can take your mind off of chewing tobacco. But don’t wait too long—pick a date in the next two weeks or less than a month away.
Look for a Support Group
For individuals exploring how to quit chewing tobacco, it’s important to know that the journey should not be taken alone. Family and friends can play a key supporting role in the process. Alternatively, consider participating in a support group. Many former tobacco addicts and individuals looking to quit belong to such groups. Because group members understand the challenges of overcoming an addiction to chewing tobacco, they help by providing encouragement and accountability. For example, Nicotine Anonymous offers online, phone, and face-to-face meetings throughout the year and in different parts of the country. You can also find support programs at local hospitals and wellness programs.
Seek Guidance from Health Professionals
Medical professionals such as family physicians can prescribe a nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), which includes the use of gum, lozenges, patches, and medicines to help wean you from nicotine addiction. While not all NRTs require a physician’s prescription, it is best to speak with your doctor about certain NRTs before taking them. Government programs also offer assistance, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ tobacco and health programs, which offer a hotline (1-855-QUIT-VET) to connect veterans with a tobacco cessation counselor.
Resources for Preparing to Quit Chewing Tobacco
Want to know more reasons to quit? The following resources discuss the importance of quitting chewing tobacco and what you can do to prepare to quit.
- 8 Reasons to Quit Dipping Tobacco, Cleveland Clinic: includes an interactive graphic that presents the health consequences of chewing tobacco.
- Making a Plan to Quit and Planning Your Quit Day, American Cancer Society: highlights actions individuals can take to quit chewing tobacco and links to additional resources about staying healthy.
- Quitting Chewing Tobacco, Delta Dental: describes the dangers of different smokeless tobacco products, signs and symptoms of cancer caused by tobacco use, and tips for quitting and overcoming withdrawal.
Tips for Quitting Chewing Tobacco
When quitting chewing tobacco, it’s helpful to understand what to expect from the process. Common withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, depression, headaches, hunger, irregularity, a sweet tooth, and weight gain. Individuals going through their quitting journey may become irritable, impatient, stressed, and angry. The first two weeks typically are the hardest, with symptoms generally subsiding after a month or so. Here are some helpful tips to get through rough patches when quitting chewing tobacco.
- Remember that withdrawal symptoms are temporary. After they pass, you will feel better for having conquered the cravings.
- Have other things to chew on when cravings strike, like chewing gum or vegetables such as baby carrots.
- Avoid places where chewing tobacco is encouraged and where individuals may offer you some.
- Take time to place yourself in the present moment through mindfulness, meditation, and breathing and relaxation techniques.
- Speak with your doctor about nicotine replacement products and ask if one may be right for you.
- Stay active by going on walks or runs, or work out at the gym.
- Stay motivated by thinking about who you are quitting for—whether your primary reason is for your health or your family.
Resources for Quitting Chewing Tobacco
These resources offer insights on how to quit chewing tobacco and staying tobacco-free.
- Quitting Snuff, Chew Tobacco, or Snus, BecomeAnEX: Resource cover tips for quitting different smokeless tobacco products.
- How to Quit Smoking and Using Tobacco Products, Cancer.Net: Individuals can access a wide range of information, from managing nicotine withdrawal symptoms to medication, counseling, and insurance information.
- Quit Smoking, Mayo Clinic: Offers tips to help individuals on their chewing tobacco quitting journey to overcome cravings.
- Quitting Smokeless Tobacco, Cigna: Describes the different types of smokeless tobacco and provides reasons and tips for quitting.
Individuals often are lured into a false sense of confidence once cravings subside and they haven’t used tobacco for a month or so. Unfortunately, tobacco addiction is a daily struggle. You have to fight to stay tobacco-free.Those newly liberated from their tobacco habit should seek help from loved ones such as parents and friends to permanently stay tobacco-free. As noted, support groups, anti-tobacco organizations, and other resources can help individuals quit and remain off tobacco. For example, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network provides information, support resources, events, and advocacy to help individuals quit tobacco use. Health professionals also can provide support and skills for quitting chewing tobacco. For example, a trained counselor can teach coping techniques to manage cravings like meditation to help with anxiety or group therapy sessions.
Resources for Staying Tobacco-Free
The following list of links includes organizations that advocate to reduce tobacco use and provide information for individuals looking to learn more about the health impacts of tobacco.
- BeTobaccoFree.gov: Individuals can access various resources, from smoke-free apps and live support chats to information about medications.
- Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids: This advocacy organization works to reduce tobacco use in children at the federal and state levels. It also provides information about the dangers of tobacco products.
- Smokeless Tobacco Fact Sheets, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Offers informational sheets about usage trends among youth, adult user statistics, health effects of tobacco use, and more.
- Smoking & Tobacco Use, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Individuals can find facts about tobacco use and health, view data and statistics, and access information to help quit tobacco use.
- Truth Initiative: Focuses on providing tools, education, and facts based on research about smoking, vaping, and nicotine
Staying Tobacco-Free Sets You Free
Users of smokeless tobacco are at higher risk of contracting oral cancers and dental problems like receding gums. By contrast, you will reap the health and personal benefits of quitting a chewing tobacco habit and staying tobacco-free. Ultimately, quitting chewing tobacco means freeing yourself from an unhealthy addiction. While this guide offers helpful information about how to quit chewing tobacco, nurses and other health care professionals serve as resources for individuals seeking support to quit using tobacco.