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Giving Up Smokeless Tobacco

If you're thinking about giving up smokeless tobacco, you've taken the first step toward improving your health. Some people believe that using chewing tobacco and snuff is safer than inhaling cigarette smoke; however, these forms of tobacco carry many of the same risks as cigarettes and additional ones as well.

Giving up tobacco isn't easy, especially chewing tobacco, which delivers more nicotine into the bloodstream than cigarettes. However, quitting certainly is possible. You'll have the greatest chance of succeeding if you prepare ahead of time and come up with a plan to become tobacco-free.

Reasons to quit

Understanding why you want to give up tobacco can help you stick with your decision to quit. Here are some common reasons people want to quit:

  • To be healthier. Chewing tobacco and snuff can cause cancer of the throat, mouth, and pancreas. It can also cause leukoplakia, which are white mouth sores that can lead to cancer. The nicotine in tobacco raises blood pressure and cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of having a heart attack.
  • To have healthier teeth and gums. Chewing tobacco causes gums to pull away from the teeth. It also causes bone loss around the roots of the teeth.
  • To have a cleaner appearance. Tobacco stains teeth and causes bad breath.
  • To save money. How many pouches or tins do you go through each week?
  • To be a positive role model. If you have important children in your life, giving up tobacco will set a good example for them.

Write down your reasons for wanting to quit using tobacco. You might even keep the paper in your wallet or post it on your refrigerator to help remind you of all you have to gain by leaving tobacco behind.

Planning to quit

Quitting smokeless tobacco is a lot like giving up cigarettes. Both are physical and psychological addictions. Your body will have to get used to not having nicotine and you will have to change your habits. The same strategies that work for smokers can help you, including attending a quit-smoking program or talking with your health care provider about using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).

Here are some ways to prepare to quit.

  • Set a date to quit. Write your quit date down on the calendar. Give yourself enough time to prepare but not too much time that you talk yourself out of quitting. Don't try to quit during a stressful time because it will be harder and you might fail.
  • Keep a journal and write down when you use tobacco. Many people find it helpful to write down what they were doing and how they felt each time they used tobacco. After awhile a pattern will emerge and you'll be able to find ways to avoid these triggers. For example, if you chew tobacco when you watch TV, you might want to keep a supply of gum or mints near the television. If you always chew or dip after a meal, brush your teeth right after eating and go for a walk or run.
  • Join a tobacco-cessation program or support group. Specially trained counselors can help you understand why you use tobacco, teach you new habits, and give you tips to help you quit. A support group can provide moral support and motivation. Be sure to choose a program that offers at least four to seven sessions that last 20 to 30 minutes each, continues for at least two weeks after you quit using tobacco, and includes individual or group counseling. Your employee assistance program or the program that provided this publication may be able to help you find a group.
  • Decide whether medication or nicotine replacement therapy is right for you.
    Medications, such as bupropion (Zyban) and varenicline (Chantix) and nicotine replacements such as nicotine gum or patches can help you quit by taking the edge off nicotine withdrawal. Nicotine gum in particular can be helpful for smokeless tobacco users because it satisfies the craving to have something in the mouth while it eases the physical symptoms of withdrawal. Talk with your health care provider about what is available and whether any of these methods is right for you.
  • Tell family and friends about your plans. Let the people close to you know that you may be feeling tense for a couple of weeks. Ask for their support and understanding. There may be specific ways they can help, even if it's just checking in to see how you're doing.
  • Start cutting back on your tobacco use. Start by giving up your favorite times to chew. Leave your can or pouch at home when you go out. Try to cut back to half your usual tobacco use by your quit day.
  • Stock up on replacements for tobacco. People say they miss having something in their mouth when they quit chew or dip. Stock up on gum, mints, carrot sticks, unbuttered popcorn, and other low-fat snacks. Unshelled sunflower seeds can be particularly helpful because they require some work to eat.
  • Keep your hands busy. Tobacco users say they enjoy the rituals of their habit. Look for a replacement, such as woodworking, needle work, even squeezing a stress ball.
  • Start exercising regularly. If you don't get regular exercise, make it part of your life now. Regular exercise will help you fight your cravings for tobacco and will ward off weight gain. Join a gym or take up running, walking, or swimming. Join a sports team or bicycle regularly.

Your first day without smokeless tobacco

  • Throw away your cans or pouches. Be sure to check coat pockets, your car, and all of the places where you may come across a stray can or pouch.
  • Find ways to manage withdrawal symptoms. As your body gets used to being without nicotine, you may have headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. You may have trouble sleeping. The symptoms can last from a day or two to several weeks. Until they pass, be careful while driving or doing anything else that requires you to be alert and focused. Find ways to relax, such as through deep-breathing exercises or meditation.
  • Wait out cravings. The urge to use snuff or chewing tobacco should pass within 10 minutes. Do whatever it takes to resist it.
  • Get your teeth cleaned. Enjoy the fresh feeling in your mouth.
  • Go somewhere you don't ordinarily use tobacco. Spend the day with people who don't use tobacco.
  • Change your daily routines. Chewing or dipping has become part of your life, so shake things up a bit. Do things differently to get rid of some of the usual triggers to using tobacco. Eat a bagel for breakfast instead of your usual bowl of cereal. Take a different route to work. If you sit in the same chair when you watch TV, move to a different spot.
  • Cut back on caffeine. Caffeine stays in your body longer when you're not using tobacco. If you drink your usual amount of coffee or soda, you might feel jittery and uncomfortable. Cut back to half your usual amount, or eliminate caffeine altogether.
  • Avoid alcohol. Drinking can make you want to use tobacco. Be sure to stay away from bars and other places where you're likely to find dip or chew available.

Staying motivated

Even when the physical cravings for nicotine pass there are likely to be times when you find yourself wanting to dip or chew. Finding ways to stay motivated to quit will help you stay away from tobacco during those moments.

  • Save your tobacco money in a jar. Put the money you would ordinarily spend on tobacco in a jar and watch the amount grow. Treat yourself to something special at the end of each month or save the money for something big.
  • Treat yourself to things that make you feel good. Using tobacco lifts your mood, so fill your days with fun or relaxing activities. Watch funny movies, read books, go to concerts.
  • Picture yourself as someone who doesn't use tobacco. In every situation, think of yourself as someone who doesn't dip or chew. Imagine yourself turning down an offer of a dip or chew by saying, "No. I don't do that."
  • Think about how far you've come. Whenever you have a craving, remind yourself of all of the reasons why you quit and how far you've come since your first day without tobacco. Think about how you felt during nicotine withdrawal. Do you really want to go through that again?

If you have a setback and start using tobacco again, don't give up. Throw away the can or pouch and start again. Figure out what caused you to dip or chew. What can you do differently next time? It may take several attempts at quitting before you give up smokeless tobacco for good. Don't let a slip defeat you. See it for what it is: a minor setback. Then pick up where you left off.

Sourced From: Ceridian Corporation/Patricia Flack, "Quitting Smokeless Tobacco" 2008