Health & Safety

November 4, 2016

Spit tobacco smokeless: Can still cause cancer

by Capt. Michael Saxton
56th Dental Squadron

Although smokeless tobacco does not come with the danger of breathing hot smoke full of chemicals into the lungs, which is known to cause cancer, emphysema and other chronic, progressive diseases, it can cause cancer in the mouth, pancreas and esophagus, and be just as deadly.

Smokeless tobacco is tobacco that is not burned. It is also known as chewing tobacco, oral tobacco, spit or spitting tobacco, dip, chew and snuff. Most people chew or suck (dip) the tobacco in their mouth and spit out the tobacco juices that build up, although spitless smokeless tobacco has also been developed. Nicotine in the tobacco is absorbed through the lining of the mouth.

Are there harmful chemicals in smokeless tobacco?

There is no safe form of tobacco. At least 28 chemicals in smokeless tobacco have been found to cause cancer. The most harmful chemicals in smokeless tobacco are tobacco-specific nitrosamines, which are formed during the growing, curing, fermenting and aging of tobacco. The level of tobacco-specific nitrosamines varies by product. Scientists have found that the nitrosamine level is directly related to the risk of cancer.

Does smokeless tobacco cause cancer?

Smokeless tobacco causes oral cancer, pancreatic cancer and cancer of the tube that runs from the throat to the stomach.

Does smokeless tobacco cause other diseases?

Using smokeless tobacco may also cause heart disease, gum disease, and oral ulcers other than cancer, such as precancerous white patches in the mouth.

Can a user get addicted to smokeless tobacco?

All tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco, contain nicotine, which is addictive. Users of smokeless tobacco and users of cigarettes have comparable levels of nicotine in the blood. In users of smokeless tobacco, nicotine is absorbed through the mouth tissue directly into the blood, where it goes to the brain. Even after the tobacco is removed from the mouth, nicotine continues to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Also, the nicotine stays in the blood longer for users of smokeless tobacco than for smokers.

Is using smokeless tobacco less hazardous than smoking cigarettes?

Because all tobacco products are harmful and cause cancer, the use of all of these products should be strongly discouraged. There is no safe level of tobacco use. People who use any type of tobacco product should be urged to quit.

As long ago as 1986, the advisory committee to the Surgeon General concluded that the use of smokeless tobacco “is not a safe substitute for smoking cigarettes. It can cause cancer and a number of noncancerous oral conditions and can lead to nicotine addiction and dependence.”

Should smokeless tobacco be used to help a person quit smoking?

There is no scientific evidence that using smokeless tobacco can help a person quit smoking. Because all tobacco products are harmful and cause cancer, the use of any tobacco product is strongly discouraged. There is no safe level of tobacco use. People who use any type of tobacco product should be urged to quit.

How can I get help quitting smokeless tobacco?

For information on quitting, contact your primary care manager/behavioral health optimization at 623-856-2273 option #1 or health promotions at 623-856-3830.

The National Cancer Institute offers free information about quitting smokeless tobacco:

• Call the NCI Smoking Quitline at 877–44U–QUIT (877–448–7848). Talk with a smoking cessation counselor about quitting smokeless tobacco. You can call the quit line within the United States 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST Monday through Friday.

• Use LiveHelp online chat. You can have a confidential online text chat with an NCI smoking cessation counselor 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. EST Monday through Friday.

• The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the NIH agency that supports dental, oral and craniofacial research, offers a guide for quitting called “Smokeless Tobacco: A Guide for Quitting and other information about smokeless tobacco.”

• Go to HTTP://

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