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Smokeless Doesn’t Mean Harmless – Know What’s In Your Mouth

Nov 21, 2012
When it comes to chewing tobacco, just because there is no smoke does not mean there is no risk.

When it comes to chewing tobacco, just because there is no smoke does not mean there is no risk. And while you might think that chew is a bad habit from another generation, the reality is that teens, particularly boys, are using it on a regular basis.

In the 2010 Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey, approximately 347,000 Canadians aged 15 to 24 reported trying smokeless tobacco products – chew, spit, dip, snuff or snus.  One year later, the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey stated that 4.6 per cent (nearly 47,000) of Ontario students reported using these same products, with young males (7.5 per cent) far more likely to use than young females (1.6 per cent). Local use among youth is reported at nine per cent, almost double what is being reported provincially.

While smoking rates have declined, the use of smokeless tobacco products by youth is an alarming trend, particularly in Simcoe Muskoka where usage is being reported at nearly double the provincial average. It is well known that smoking and secondhand smoke pose serious health risks.  However, there is a misconception that smokeless tobacco products are a safe alternative to smoking.  The reality is that smokeless tobacco use carries serious health risks.

Smokeless tobacco products are addictive and dangerous, containing nicotine and 28 cancer causing agents. Holding a pinch of chew in the mouth for 30 minutes releases as much nicotine as smoking three to four cigarettes. Despite being packaged like candy and containing youth-friendly smells and flavours, from green apple to spearmint, these products contain health risks including: 

  • Mouth and oral cancers
  • Tooth decay and “loose” gums that can lead to tooth loss
  • Hairy tongue
  • Mouth sores
  • Stained teeth and
  • Halitosis (i.e. bad breath).  

While the Smoke-Free Ontario Act banned smoking in most public places, smokeless tobacco products can still be used in places where smoking is prohibited. Parents, teachers, coaches and other caregivers need to know the signs that indicate use, including: 

  • Carrying a pop can or cup around and constantly spitting into it
  • Often appearing to chew gum
  • Increasing use of lip balm
  • Complaining of cracked / bleeding lips or white spots / sores in their mouth and
  • Spending money but has nothing to show for it.  

Most importantly, talk to your children, students or athletes about the dangers of using smokeless tobacco products, because chew is definitely not just a bad habit from the past. For more information about the health risks of chewing tobacco and how smokeless tobacco products are marketed  in a way that appeals to youth, visit, or call Your Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday and speak with a public health nurse. 


Dr. Gardner is Simcoe Muskoka’s medical officer of health.


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