9 Compelling Reasons to Quit Chewing Tobacco

toxic sign tobaccoThis list is inspired by a reader who told me that he quit chewing tobacco cold turkey after seeing a picture of someone with throat cancer. 

So I give you my list of 9 reasons to quit the dip…



The Chemicals in Chewing Tobacco


1 Nicotine

nicotine chemical formula, chemical in tobaccoNicotine is the chemical in tobacco that causes addiction.  According to the CDC, more people in the U.S. are addicted to nicotine than any other drug, and it is probably just as addicting as heroin or cocaine.  Withdrawal symptoms are the main reason for the addiction.  Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are irritability, anger, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and hunger leading to weight gain.  These symptoms lead users to continue using the drug, despite the exposure to dangerous chemicals and higher risk of cancer.



2 Polonium

polonium on periodic table, element in tobaccoPolonium is a radioactive element found in tobacco plants, that is linked to lung cancer.  According to the EPA, tobacco farmers use fertilizer containing naturally occurring radium to increase their crop size.  When radium decays, it forms the rare radioactive element, polonium 210, which is not washed away by rain.  When you use tobacco products, the radioactive elements get into your body, building up over time and causing damage.



3 Nitrosamines

Tobacco DNA mutation, TSNA, carcinogen in tobaccospecific nitrosamines (TSNAs) are the chemicals in tobacco that are linked to cancer.  These carcinogenic chemicals form during the fermenting and processing stages.  As a cancer-causing agent, they force mutations within the DNA in our cells.  The mutated cells then grow and divide out of control, invading other areas of the body and forming tumors. 



The Cancers Linked to Chewing Tobacco


4 Mouth Cancer

cancer on tongue

Mouth cancer is highly correlated to chewing tobacco.  It can form anywhere in the mouth including the lips, gums, tongue and cheeks.  Sores that won’t heal, bleeding that won’t stop, growths, lumps, stiffness and pain when chewing or swallowing, and loose teeth can all be symptoms.  Treatment includes surgery to remove the cancer, reconstructive surgery of the mouth, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted drug therapy.



5 Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer tumor

Although not very common in the United States, esophageal cancer is also linked to chewing tobacco.  This cancer causes difficulty swallowing, chest pain and burning, heartburn and indigestion.  It can become difficult or even impossible to eat or drink.  Treatments are the same as with mouth cancer, but may also require placing a stent into the esophagus to keep it open in severe cases so that the patient can eat and drink.  The picture shows a tumor inside of the esophagus.


6 Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers, partly because it isn’t usually diagnosed until you are already in the later stages of the disease.  Causes are unknown, but it has been strongly correlated with tobacco use.  Symptoms include abdominal pain that goes to your back, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) which occurs when a tumor blocks the bile duct.


This picture shows tumors that have spread into the liver secondary to pancreatic cancer:

Liver tumors

The pancreas is a gland that secretes hormones such as insulin that help to regulate body sugar and digest food.  When cancerous tumors form on the pancreas, the tumors can press on the stomach causing nausea and vomiting.  The tumors can also block the bowels and prevent the body from absorbing nutrients.  Like other cancers, treatment includes, radiation, chemotherapy, and targeted drug therapy.



Other Reasons to Quit Chewing Tobacco


7 Leukoplakia


Although it isn’t cancerous, Leukoplakia can be an early warning sign of cancer.  White or gray patches form around the mouth, tongues, gums, and cheeks.  These patches can only be removed by a scalpel, laser, or cold probe.  They usually go away when the user stops chewing tobacco, but often will recur with consistent tobacco use.


8 Halitosis (aka Bad Breath)

A picture is worth a thousand words.  There’s not much else I can say here.    

Bad breath


9 It’s Gross

Very gross. 

Chewing tobacco spit bottle