Definitely Not a Safe Alternative to Smoking

Get the facts about chew, spit and dip tobacco

Some may see spit or smokeless tobacco as a less harmful alternative to smoking cigarettes. But these products are unsafe and directly linked to mouth diseases, cancers and other health risks.

Plus, they can cause nasty side effects – such as bad breath and tooth damage – from the minute you start using.

Oral tobacco products include:

  • Chew — tobacco that comes in the form of a loose leaf, plug, twist or roll. Pieces are placed between the cheek and gums and the juice is spit. Also called spit, dip or spit tobacco.1
  • Snus — pronounced “snoose,” snus is a type of moist snuff often flavored with spices or fruit and packaged like small tea bags. Snus is held between the gum and lower lip and the juice is swallowed.1
  • Snuff — finely ground tobacco, which is often flavored. Dry snuff is a powder that is sniffed or inhaled up the nose. Moist snuff is a gum-like substance sold in pouches and then placed between the lower lip or cheek and gum.1



What You Need to Know

Here’s what we do know about the varieties of chew.

Chew is not a safe substitute for cigarettes.

  • People who chew or dip ingest about the same amount of nicotine as regular smokers.2
  • Chew and other smokeless tobacco products are linked to cancer and can be deadly. These products contain a variety of potentially harmful chemicals.3
  • Because users suck on and sometimes swallow the juices, cancers and diseases of the mouth, esophagus and pancreas are common among chew users.4
  • The most harmful cancer-causing substances in smokeless tobacco are tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), which are formed during the curing and aging of tobacco. TSNA levels vary by product, but higher levels result in greater cancer risk.3
  • Additional research is needed to examine long-term effects of newer smokeless tobacco products, such as snus.1
  • Chew and snuff are not a less harmful alternative to smoking; they are still linked to cancer and can be deadly.3

Swallowing chew can lead to nicotine poisoning.

Nicotine in any form is poisonous to children and pets. According to Poison Control, even swallowing just a small amount of chew in young people or adults can lead to nausea, vomiting, dizziness, tremors, sweating and seizures, as well as making the heart beat much faster than normal. Nicotine can poison through ingestion, skin, eye or mouth contact, so always properly store and dispose of all chew products. If you experience symptoms or suspect that a child has been exposed to nicotine or swallowed chew, immediately call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.&nbsp

Chew and snuff have not been proven to help cigarette smokers quit­­. Cessation is the best option for those looking to lead a healthier lifestyle.3

Over 10 million Americans use smokeless tobacco, including over 6 percent of high school students. The highest concentration of users is in rural areas.5

Myths about chew and similar products


Only old guys chew.



Since 1970, smokeless tobacco transitioned from being primarily used by older men to predominantly young men and boys. Almost half of chew users started before they were 18, and young men are now 50 percent more likely than older men to be regular users.2 5


Chew is not as addictive as cigarettes.



Chew and smokeless tobacco products can be just as addictive as cigarettes because all of these products contain nicotine.6


If you don’t swallow the juice from chew, it isn’t bad for you.



If you suck on tobacco of any kind, it can still harm you. Smokeless tobacco users absorb nicotine through pores in the gums, so you’ll still get the same side effects.6


Brushing your teeth after using chew lessens the damage.



Even if you brush your teeth or rinse your mouth after using chew, the high sugar content can erode tooth enamel. And you have still absorbed nicotine through your gums. Plus, chew users can suffer from black, furry tongue, gum recession, leukoplakia (white or gray patches inside the mouth) and other nasty side effects.6 7 8

1. Smokeless Tobacco: Products and Marketing, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017. Retrieved from
2. Health Risks of Smokeless Tobacco, American Cancer Society, 2015. Retrieved from
3. Harmful Chemicals in Tobacco Products, American Cancer Society, 2017. Retrieved from
4. Smokeless Tobacco Products, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2018. Retrieved from
5. Smokeless Tobacco and Kids, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 2017. Retrieved from
6. Quit Tobacco: Health Risks of Smokeless Tobacco, Mayo Clinic, 2017. Retrieved from
7. Smokeless Tobacco: Health Effects, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017. Retrieved from
8. Foul mouth: what yucky signs say about your health: Black Tongue, CBS News, 2017. Retrieved from