A project of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health

Skip Navigation

Womens Health logo

Smoking and How To Quit

divider line

Smokeless tobacco and nicotine products

Smokeless tobacco and tobacco-free nicotine products are marketed as ways to get nicotine in places where smoking is banned. These products are not FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapies, and there is no proof that they can help smokers quit. Public health experts worry about the health risks of these products, as well as that they may appeal to young nonsmokers and hinder a smoker’s chances of quitting.

Smokeless tobacco

Smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to cigarettes. Just like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco is addictive and can cause cancer.

Smokeless tobacco comes in 2 main forms:

  • Snuff is a finely ground tobacco. In the United States, snuff is the most popular type of smokeless tobacco. Users put a pinch of snuff (also called a "dip" or a "rub") between the cheek and gum in the mouth and hold it there.
  • Chewing tobacco is bulkier than snuff and is chewed. Chewing tobacco comes in leaf and plug forms.

Smokeless tobacco contains at least 3,000 chemicals, including many that you wouldn't want in your body. Like all forms of tobacco, smokeless tobacco contains nicotine, an addictive drug that gets you hooked on tobacco. Holding one pinch of smokeless tobacco in your mouth for 30 minutes delivers as much nicotine as 3-4 cigarettes.

In addition, at least 28 cancer-causing chemicals have been found in smokeless tobacco, including:

  • Nitrosamines — the most powerful cancer-causing agents in smokeless tobacco. Smokeless tobacco contains from 20 to 43,000 times more nitrosamines than other consumer products, such as beer or bacon!
  • Polonium 210 — a radioactive element
  • Formaldehyde — a chemical found in the fluid used to preserve dead bodies
  • Cadmium — a metal used in batteries
  • Arsenic — a poison used in insecticides
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) — air pollutants formed by the burning of substances, such as coal, gas, wood, charcoal, gasoline, and tobacco

The use of smokeless tobacco can cause:

  • Cancers of the mouth, pharynx (throat), and esophagus (the tube that carries food to the stomach)
  • Shrinking of the gums around your teeth
  • Cracked lips, white spots, sores, and bleeding in the mouth
  • Increased risk for heart disease and stroke

Tobacco companies continue to develop new types of smokeless tobacco products, such as mint-flavored tablets that dissolve in your mouth and moist, spitfree "snus," in an effort to expand the tobacco market. Words such as "refreshing" and "tasty" are used to market these products, which can be used in places where smoking is banned.

Return to top

Nicotine products

Some tobacco-free products also are marketed as ways to get nicotine in places where smoking is banned. These include:

  • Dissolvable tablets that contain nicotine. These products look like candy, and public health experts fear that may lead to accidental nicotine poisoning in children.
  • Bottled water that contains nicotine. These products also look harmless, but are dangerous to pets and children.
  • E-cigarettes. These are battery-operated devices made to look like and be used as cigarettes. These fruit- and candy-flavored "e-cigs" are imported into the United States and sold in mall kiosks and online. A recent FDA study found that e-cigs are not safe.

Return to top

Content last updated: May 19, 2010.

Return to top