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Cigarette smoking is injurious to health! We’ve all heard that before, but what about chewing tobacco? Chewing smokeless tobacco products, although less talked about, is just as bad as smoking – if not more. Rather than being inhaled, smokeless tobacco is consumed orally and has been in use for as long as other forms of tobacco consumption.
According to the National Cancer Institute, there are two main types of smokeless tobacco – chewing tobacco, which is available as loose leaves, plugs (bricks), and twists of rope, and snuff, which is finely cut or powdered tobacco that may be sold in different scents and flavors. (1)
Habits like tobacco consumption are a potential death sentence, and what’s disconcerting is the fact that the users of such nicotine-laden products are growing by the day.
According to a 2014 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, about 3% of the US population over 18 years of age reported the use of smokeless tobacco, making it the largest source of human exposure to carcinogenic, tobacco-specific nitrosamines. (2)
In another 2016 survey done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the USA, an estimated 3.3% of adults are current smokeless tobacco users; use is much higher among men than women. (3)
The addictive tendency associated with all tobacco products including smokeless tobacco can be attributed to its nicotine content, which is also responsible for many of the detrimental side effects that come along with tobacco use. The use of smokeless tobacco, for instance, has both short-term and long-term effects on your health.
Some of the short-term effects include:
- Bad breath
- Teeth staining
- Tooth decay
- Receding gums
- Mouth sores
Long-term effects, on the other hand, can lead to a number of life-threatening health problems including cancer.
In fact, smokeless tobacco contains 28 carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents, that put you at an increased risk for developing various types of cancer, especially mouth, tongue, cheek, gum, and esophageal (throat) cancers. (2)
A 2003 study published in the journal Thorax reports that chewing betel quid and tobacco is associated with a substantial risk of oral cancers in India. (4)
Another 2016 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology reports that smokeless tobacco use appears to be associated with head and neck cancer, especially oral cancers, with snuff being more strongly associated with chewing tobacco. (5)
Smokeless tobacco use is also associated with death from heart disease, stroke, cirrhosis, and diseases of the respiratory, digestive, and genitourinary systems.
Useful Tips to Help You Quit Chewing Tobacco
Here are some effective tips to help quit chewing tobacco.
1. Make a plan
The first step to help you quit chewing tobacco is to unclutter your mind, set short-term as well as long-term targets, and formulate a solid plan to achieve them. (6)
For instance, pick a concrete date to quit, which can be about a month or two in the future. This will give you time to prepare yourself emotionally and physically for the cleansing process that lies ahead.
Preparing a list of reasons to quit; revisiting them time and again can also help reinforce your commitment to the goal and push you to try harder. For support, you can talk to an addiction therapist, join a help group, or spend time with people who were former users.
As the day approaches, cut back on chewing tobacco with the help of chewing aids. Moreover, ease yourself in the process by gradually decreasing the quantity and increasing the time between each tobacco usage.
As you succeed in managing with lesser and lesser amounts of tobacco, you will have the motivation and mental impetus to quit completely. When the quit day finally arrives, exercise strength of will and go cold turkey.
2. Avoid the triggers
Once your plan is in motion, you need to avoid the triggers that can throw you off your path to quitting tobacco.
Everyone has triggers that cause them to fall back on bad habits like chewing tobacco. So, knowing your triggers and eliminating them from your life will help in your mission. (7)
Triggers can be anything: people, places, things, and situations that set off your urge to chew tobacco. For instance, you can feel the urge for a dose of smokeless tobacco after seeing people you normally enjoy chewing around, encountering pleasurable sounds or smells you associate with chewing, or even just getting stressed out, scared, or anxious.
If you plan on stopping your tobacco cravings entirely, successfully addressing and avoiding triggers will get you half-way there. Especially because cravings are more or less temporary, you can easily go without chewing tobacco in the absence of any trigger reinforcing your urge.
Keeping yourself occupied with some activity can further help you take your mind off that pressing desire to chew.
3. Keep your mouth busy
People who have been in the habit of chewing tobacco for many years usually miss the comfort of chewing something inside their mouth. So, look for ways to keep your mouth busy. (7)
Many find that having something else to chew helps quell withdrawal cravings, making the quitting process far easier. So, to keep your mouth engaged, you can chew sugarless gum, suck on sugarless hard candies, or eat cloves, sunflower seeds, licorice sticks, carrots, and celery sticks. You can even carry some fresh or dry fruits handy.
If you are working on a computer, then you can put a pencil or pen between your lips.
When you’re out, carry a drink, and as soon as you have the urge for smokeless tobacco, drink from a straw to keep your mouth busy.
4. Use nicotine replacement therapy
One effective tool in dealing with the withdrawal symptoms once you swear off using smokeless tobacco is nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).
Nicotine replacement therapy is, in general, well tolerated and has minimal adverse effects for those who wish to quit smoking and chewing tobacco. (8)
A 2007 study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence concludes that the use of 42 mg/day nicotine patch therapy is safe and should be considered as initial therapy in the clinical setting among smokeless tobacco users who use more than 3 cans per week. (9)
NRT comes in different forms like patch, gum, and lozenge. If you plan to use NRT, have it available on your quit day. Read and follow the instructions on the NRT package carefully. NRT will give you the most benefit if you use it as recommended.
5. Practice deep breathing
You can try deep breathing to fight nicotine withdrawal symptoms, such as strong cravings, anxiety, and restlessness. The practice of deep breathing also improves the low mood that people often experience upon quitting.
A 2011 study published in Neuroscience Bulletin reports that a form of mindfulness meditation known as integrative body-mind training (IBMT) improves attention and self-regulation through the interaction between the central (brain) and the autonomic (body) nervous systems. (10)
What’s more is that meditation facilitates the elimination of toxins from the body.
To perform deep breathing:
- Lie down on your back.
- Put your hands on your abdomen and relax your muscles.
- Inhale deeply through your nose, expanding your abdomen and then filling your lungs with air. Count slowly to 5 as you inhale.
- Hold your breath and count to 3.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth. Again, count slowly to 5 while you exhale and slowly let go of any tension from your muscles.
- Continue to inhale and exhale deeply for 10 minutes.
- Practice deep breathing whenever you have a craving for chewing tobacco.
Since deep breathing can also be practiced in a sitting position, this is a convenient, cost-free solution to your cravings that can be done almost anywhere at any time.
6. Do some meditation
Just like deep breathing, meditation can also help handle some of the psychological aspects of nicotine withdrawal. (11) Meditation helps combat negative mood and bring about a sense of calmness over both the body and the mind, which in turn works to reduce your stress level.
Start doing meditation for a few minutes initially and gradually increase the time to at least 10 minutes a day.
Licorice has been considered useful in keeping the tobacco cravings of some people at bay. But cases have been reported where people have consumed large quantities of licorice, which has resulted in adverse repercussions for their health. Thus, it is well advised to exercise caution and moderation when using licorice as a remedy for tobacco withdrawal.
Nevertheless, licorice is an expectorant and demulcent herb that can help you quit chewing tobacco naturally. The mildly sweet taste of licorice helps kill the urge to chew, improves oral health, and fights bad breath.
Plus, this herb is an adrenal tonic and can help balance cortisol levels, reduce fatigue, and restore energy.
Chewing a small stick of licorice root can satisfy your urge to chew tobacco. You can even drink licorice root tea two or three times a day. (12)
Note: Licorice is not recommended for those who have diabetes, high blood pressure, adrenal disease, or reduced kidney or liver functioning.
8. Drink plenty of water
Smokeless tobacco contains a good amount of nicotine, and one important key to overcoming nicotine addiction is getting your daily fix of water. Your body needs water to avoid dehydration and flush out toxins, so keep drinking water at regular intervals. (13)
When you drink more water, you urinate more, thereby speeding up your body’s elimination of toxins. Carrying a bottle of water with you will also keep your hands and mouth busy.
The amount of water you need to drink depends on your health, climatic conditions, and physical activity level. Generally, however, a daily intake of 8 to 10 glasses of water is recommended.
9. Start exercising regularly
The struggle to quit tobacco can be physically and mentally draining and thus requires you to actively keep your body and mind fighting to be fit. Canceling out the detrimental effects already engendered by continued tobacco use warrants a healthy lifestyle that accords some time to exercise as well.
Taking up healthy exercises like running or cycling not only improves your health but also makes it easier to quit smokeless tobacco. Exercise can also speed up your body’s self-repair process. (13)
Also, it can serve as a distraction to keep your mind off your nicotine cravings. A 10-minute walk in an open area whenever you have a strong craving for smokeless tobacco can really make a difference and keep you on the right track.
Additional Tips to Help You Quit Tobacco Consumption
- As soon as you have decided to quit the habit of tobacco chewing, it is time to clean your house to remove the traces, which can throw you back in the pit.
- Don’t allow anyone to use smokeless tobacco in your home, car, or even while sitting next to you in a restaurant.
- Stock up on chew alternatives like chewing gum, beef jerky, fruit chews, or fake dip.
- Quitting tobacco can make you extremely short tempered during the adjustment period; hence, give yourself alone time when you need it.
- You can also switch to drinking a cup of herbal tea when you would usually have smokeless tobacco.
- Brush your teeth often to rid your mouth of any residual tobacco, as the clean feeling in your mouth will ward off any smokeless tobacco cravings.
- Join a support group to talk with people who understand your struggle. Involve your friends and family and keep them attuned to your targets, struggling points, and successes. Involving more people in this personal struggle increases your accountability and motivates you to try harder.
- Do not switch one bad habit with another by turning to cigarettes once you are done with smokeless tobacco or vice versa. It is vital that you quit using all tobacco products altogether because all forms of tobacco use are potentially dangerous.
Looking at the potentially fatal drawbacks of chewing tobacco, anyone who values his/her life would consider giving up this habit at the earliest. Even if the symptoms have not yet set in, regular and excessive dependence on tobacco is a ticking time bomb.
The realization that it’s bad for you and building the resolve to quit are the first steps toward reversing the damage done already. And while it may seem difficult or impossible initially, once you move past the mental hurdles that are keeping you from quitting, you’ll be patting yourself on the back for making your life free from the dangers of tobacco.
The resolution to quit, however, must stem from you, not from the need to appease your well-wishers. You will have to take ownership of your own health for your efforts toward tobacco abstinence to bear fruit. All it takes is unwavering commitment and determination, a good plan, and some lifestyle changes to reach your goal.