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Back To Vidyya Facts About Spit Tobacco

Information For Patients

US Tobacco Control Research Branch

Spit Tobacco: Just the Facts

What is spit tobacco?

Spit tobacco, also called smokeless tobacco, comes in two forms: moist snuff and chew. Snuff is a finely ground tobacco and, in the United States, it is the most popular type of spit tobacco. Users put a pinch of snuff (also called a "dip" or a "rub") between the cheek and gum in the mouth and hold it there. Chewing tobacco which comes in leaf and plug forms, is bulkier than snuff and, as it name suggests, is chewed.

Tobacco use began in North and South America. Native Americans have grown tobacco for centuries. In fact, Columbus was presented with leaves; most likely tobacco leaves, as a gift from Native Americans during his first trip to the New World. Eventually, tobacco use spread to Europe and by 1570, tobacco was grown in a few European countries. At first, tobacco was smoked in pipes, but later was chewed or "dipped." Cigarettes were introduced about 150 years later, in the mid-1700s. By the mid-1900s, cigarette smoking became the most popular way to use tobacco. Spit tobacco started increasing in use in the 1970's and early 1980's when advertising increased and people thought spit tobacco was a safe alternative to smoking. In fact, use of spit tobacco increased almost 10 times among teens aged 16-19 years between 1970 and 1985.

How many people use spit tobacco?

In the United States, it has been estimated that about 12 million people use spit tobacco regularly, with 3 million of them under the age of 21 years.

More than 2,200 young people age 11-19 try spit tobacco and 830 become regular users of spit tobacco every day! That means in one year, 824,000 young people first try spit tobacco with 304,000 becoming regular users.

While a lot more people smoke cigarettes than use spit tobacco, tobacco use in any form is a big health concern. About 26 percent of all U.S. adults smoke cigarettes and about 30 percent of high school seniors smoke. Almost 3,000 children become regular smokers everyday in the U.S.! And nearly 50% of high school seniors use some form of tobacco.

Who uses spit tobacco?

The typical spit tobacco user is a young white male between the ages of 16 and 30 years living in either rural or suburban areas. In fact, the highest use is among high school boys -- 158 out of every 1,000 (15.8%). Use is defined as having used spit tobacco at least once in the last 30 days.

Other spit tobacco use information

What's in spit tobacco?

Processed tobacco contains at least 3,000 chemical compounds including a lot of stuff you don't want in your body. Nicotine, an addictive drug, is what gets you hooked on any form of tobacco. Holding one pinch of spit tobacco in your mouth for 30 minutes delivers as much nicotine as 3-4 cigarettes.

There have been at least 28 cancer-causing chemicals identified in spit tobacco including:

How much spit tobacco is sold?

Moist snuff, the kind that is "dipped," is the most popular form of spit tobacco, especially among youth, and has increased the most in terms of sales. In just 5 years (1986 to 1990/1991), sales of dip increased 47 percent from about 28 million pounds to almost 53 million pounds. For all spit tobacco products, over 120 million pounds were sold in 1995.

Sales of snuff increased from $437 million in 1986 to $1.3 billion in 1995. That's a three times increase! For chewing tobacco, sales increased from $300 million in 1986 to about $360 million in 1995.

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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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