What is Smokeless, or Oral Tobacco?
As the name implies, smokeless tobacco (also called oral tobacco) products are not burned. They contain leaf tobacco or non-tobacco plant material infused with nicotine, and are used by placing pouches or pinches in the mouth.
View our Smokeless Tobacco Frequently Asked Questions for additional information.
Worldwide, smokeless tobacco comes in many forms. Two of the most popular forms in the western world are Swedish snus and American moist snuff (or dip). Nicotine pouches are also a smokeless, oral tobacco product, but they do not contain leaf tobacco. Chewing tobacco, a coarse cut leaf tobacco product, is also a popular way to use smokeless tobacco.
Swedish style snus (pronounced: Snoose) is used by taking a small portion (either loose or in pre-packaged pouches) and placing it in the mouth between the gum and upper lip and leaving it there until it loses its flavor. Placement in the upper lip, and the way that snus is made, allows people to use snus without the need for spitting.
Nicotine pouches are almost identical to snus in form and use, but do not contain leaf tobacco.
American style “dip” is very similar to snus, but it is usually placed in the lower lip. This, combined with some of the unpleasant byproducts of fermentation, means that spitting out the juice is, for the most part, required.
Chewing tobacco is sold in loose leaf, as a plug, or twist, and is usually placed between the gums and cheek. Chewing tobacco also requires spitting.
Before the invention of the cigarette rolling machine, which made smoking cheap and popular, oral tobacco was the most widely used tobacco product because of its convenience. Many people today prefer it because it is discreet (snus doesn’t require spitting), convenient, available in a variety of flavors, and it delivers nicotine with dramatically lower health risks than smoking.
Oral tobacco is comparable to nicotine replacement therapies (NRT), like patches or gum, when it comes to quitting smoking. Like NRT, it provides a slow and steady dose of nicotine which can help people avoid the uncomfortable aspects of withdrawal from smoking. Plus, some products can be used virtually anywhere.
What are the risks associated with using oral tobacco?
A careful and critical review of decades of research on smokeless tobacco users shows the health risks are very low. The prevalence of diseases like oral cancer, heart disease, and dental issues among people who use it (who do not smoke) is virtually the same rate as people who don’t use any tobacco products at all.
We know from decades of research that smoked tobacco products pose a far greater risk to health than smokeless products. Yet, anti-tobacco activists are crusading for a “tobacco-free world.” Regardless of the science, anti-tobacco campaigns exaggerate the risks of smokeless or oral tobacco, and downplay or ignore research that challenges their opinion. Acknowledging the complexity of some tobacco products being safer than others dilutes the anti-tobacco message that abstinence is the only solution.