The suggestion that smokeless tobacco has fewer negative effects on health because no smoke is produced has led many young people to experiment with it. In this article we review the potential harmful effects of the use of smokeless tobacco.
Are you using smokeless tobacco? Are your children using smokeless tobacco? Tobacco use, especially smokeless tobacco, is one of the fastest growing, potentially harmful habits among young adults in North America. The greatest increase in smokeless tobacco use is among young adults aged 10 to 30.
Why is this occurring? One reason is peer pressure. Many young people use the tobacco to feel included as part of a group. As well, many young people do not see themselves at risk of harm from their behaviors. They live in the present, unable to look ahead to see complications that may arise from long term use. The short term peer pressure and the pleasure derived are greater influences on the decision to use smokeless tobacco than are any thoughts of long term consequences.
There are two types of smokeless tobacco - snuff and chewing tobacco. Snuff is dry or moist and is finely ground. It may be packaged in sachets (teabag-like pouches) that are neater and easier for the beginner to use, hence may attract more people. Snuff can be placed between the teeth and the cheek or lip. Chewing tobacco is either a loose leaf plug or twist of tobacco which the user places against the inside cheek.
Smokeless tobacco is appealing because the nicotine is absorbed rapidly through the lining of the mouth. Nicotine leads to the sometimes stimulating and other times calming effects seen with tobacco use. Because nicotine is addicting, the downside is the unpleasant feelings when discontinuing use.
The components of tobacco that are absorbed into the blood may cause increased heart rate and blood pressure as well as altering body chemistry. These effects raise the risk of heart disease. There may also be complications in pregnancy resulting in low birth weight babies, premature delivery or miscarriage. There are reports of stomach problems, including the aggravation of ulcers.
Tobacco contains and produces over 3,000 components, up to 28 of which have been shown to cause cancer. Nitrosamine is one example of these dangerous components.
Many changes occur in the mouths of smokeless tobacco users. The breath smells less fresh and much of the sense of taste is lost. Tooth surfaces or tooth colored fillings may become stained.
The gum margins may recede or shrink exposing the roots of teeth. This can result in tooth sensitivity to hot and cold and sweet foods and loosening of the teeth. Other soft tissue changes include white changes in the region where the tobacco is placed. These white areas, over time, are at an increased risk of cancer.
The consequences to health from the use of smokeless tobacco are very serious. Although mouth changes may be seen early on, the other risks occur following years of use. Young people often have difficulty recognizing the long term effects of many activities. In the case of smokeless tobacco, everything possible should be done to teach them about the harmful effects in the future and to help them make a sensible decision about its use. The bad breath, stained teeth, the need to spit, and the other visible consequences of using smokeless tobacco are definitely not 'cool.'