Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2000;62(6):1423-1424

Why is it hard to quit using smokeless tobacco?

Compared with cigarettes, smokeless tobacco (snuff or chewing tobacco) puts more nicotine into your bloodstream. For this and other reasons, people who chew or dip tobacco regularly say that quitting smokeless tobacco is even harder than quitting cigarette smoking. But many smokeless tobacco users have quit successfully—and so can you. Your family doctor can help you quit.

Why is it important for me to stop using smokeless tobacco?

The use of any tobacco product has immediate and long-term effects on your health and overall well-being. Smokeless tobacco stains and wears down your teeth, causes your gums to recede (peel back) and produces mouth sores. Bad breath is a common problem. Over time, the use of smokeless tobacco can cause mouth cancer. Nicotine from smokeless tobacco also raises blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and can make it more likely that you will have a heart attack.

It is important for you to have your own reasons for wanting to stop using smokeless tobacco. In addition to health effects, you may be concerned about saving money, giving up an addictive habit or setting a good example for family members and friends. Write down your reasons for wanting to quit using smokeless tobacco. Then keep your list in places where you can see it often while you try to stop.

What can I do to get ready to quit using smokeless tobacco?

Set a date to quit and stick to it. Choose a date one to two weeks from today. Quitting can be hard, so develop a plan that works for you. Think ahead about times when you will want to chew or dip, and plan what you will do instead. Prepare yourself for quitting by recognizing the times when you will want smokeless tobacco the most. Plan to avoid those situations or to have tobacco substitutes with you (such as sunflower seeds or chewing gum). Get rid of all your chewing tobacco or snuff before your quit date. Start cutting down now on the amount you chew or dip.

Get support from your family, friends and doctor. Even better, have a friend or family member who uses smokeless tobacco stop chewing or dipping at the same time that you do. Studies have shown that quitting is more successful with the support of family and friends. Your doctor may also be able to recommend a support program that might help you quit.

What can I use to replace the smokeless tobacco?

You might think about using nicotine gum or another nicotine replacement product, such as the nicotine patch. Nicotine addiction can be tough to overcome. Talk to your doctor about whether nicotine replacement is right for you. Generally, people who use three or more tins or pouches a week, people who use smokeless tobacco within 30 minutes after they wake up and people who usually swallow tobacco juice when they chew or dip benefit most from using nicotine replacement.

Find an oral substitute for smokeless tobacco that you enjoy. This may be nontobacco mint-leaf snuff, sugarless gum or hard candy, beef jerky or sunflower seeds. Don't substitute cigarette smoking for smokeless tobacco. Stop using all tobacco products.

Find activities to do when you want to chew or dip. Many people chew or dip when they are bored. Instead, take a walk or a quick jog, lift weights, take a hot shower to relax or do any activity you enjoy that will keep your mind off smokeless tobacco.

What if I slip up and start using smokeless tobacco again?

This is normal. Learn from your slip. Think about what you can do to avoid that situation next time. Plan how you can handle things without going back to using smokeless tobacco.

Once you have quit, congratulate yourself. Celebrate beating the habit. You've worked hard. Use the money you would have spent on smokeless tobacco to buy yourself a present or do something that you enjoy.

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