Smokeless tobacco is the common term for a range of nicotine-containing tobacco products that don’t require burning for use. In addition to facing risks for nicotine addiction just like smokers, people who use these products face risks for certain forms of cancer and a range of oral health problems.
In a report issued in December 2013, researchers from the University of Michigan looked at the number of teenagers in the U.S. who use some form of smokeless tobacco. These researchers also looked at some of the key attitudes that teens maintain toward smokeless tobacco use.
Smokeless Tobacco Products And Forms
Smokeless tobacco products are available as chewing tobacco, snuff, a particular form of snuff called snus (pronounced snooze), and lozenges and other forms of dissolvable tobacco. Chewing tobacco (which users either chew or place between the wall of the mouth and the teeth or gums) comes in the form of cured tobacco twists, plugs or leaves. Snuff contains either dried or wet particles of ground tobacco, while snus contains especially small particles of wet tobacco. In addition to lozenges, manufacturers of dissolvable tobacco sell tobacco/nicotine strips, pellets and sticks.
Smokeless Tobacco Health Risks
Forms of cancer associated with habitual smokeless tobacco use include:
- oral cancer (cancers of the mouth, gums, cheeks or tongue)
- throat cancer
- pancreatic cancer
- cancer of the stomach or esophagus
Oral health problems associated with the regular use of this form of tobacco include:
- infected gums
- gum loss
- decaying teeth
- tooth loss
- precancerous lesions
In addition, habitual smokeless tobacco users may experience a substantial rise in their chances of experiencing a stroke, heart attack or some other consequence of serious cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease.
Current Trends In Smokeless Tobacco Use
The University of Michigan tracks teen involvement in smokeless tobacco use as part of a larger, ongoing survey project called Monitoring the Future, which records annual figures for all forms of substance use among American 12th graders, 10th graders and 8th graders. According to the most recent results gathered from this project in 2013, 2.8 percent of all 8th graders use some form of smokeless tobacco in any sampled month. The monthly rate of use among 10th graders is 6.4 percent, while 8.1 percent of 12th graders use smokeless tobacco on a monthly basis. Eighth-grade boys use smokeless tobacco twice as often as 8th-grade girls. Boys in the 10th grade use this form of tobacco more than five times as often as 10th-grade girls. Boys in the 12th grade use smokeless tobacco 10 times more often than 12th-grade girls.
Current Smokeless Tobacco Attitudes
Monitoring the Future contains several questions designed to uncover the attitudes that teenagers hold toward smokeless tobacco use. The results of the 2013 survey indicate that 41.6 percent of all 12th graders view the intake of smokeless tobacco products as a risky behavior. Forty percent of all 10th graders view smokeless tobacco use in this way. In addition, 36.2 percent of all 8th graders believe that smokeless tobacco intake is risky. For 8th and 10th graders, Monitoring the Future also tracked the level of disapproval for smokeless tobacco use in 2013. Over 81 percent of 8th graders disapprove of this use; the disapproval rate among 10th graders is about 78 percent.
Monitoring the Future only introduced questions on snus and dissolvable tobacco use in 2011; the survey has tracked the use of older smokeless products from its beginning in 1991. Snus use among 12th graders held steady between 2012 and 2013; among 10th graders, it dropped by almost 2 percentage points. Dissolvable tobacco use among teenagers of all ages was fairly uncommon; the highest rate of use (1.9 percent) appeared among 12th graders.
Between 2012 and 2013, the number of teens viewing smokeless tobacco use as a risky behavior dropped significantly in all three surveyed grades. A similar decline occurred in the number of teens expressing disapproval of smokeless tobacco use.
The University of Michigan researchers voiced concern over these findings for two separate but related reasons. First, declines in negative attitudes toward a substance commonly result in an increase in the use of that substance.
In addition, smokeless tobacco use is considered a potential gateway to the start of cigarette use. If teen attitudes toward smokeless tobacco continue to soften, there may ultimately be a rise in both smokeless tobacco and cigarette intake among American adolescents.