Is Snuffing Tobacco Safe?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021
3 min read

Snuff is a type of tobacco that is finely ground. Some people believe it's a safe alternative to smoking since it isn't linked to lung cancer. However, snuff isn't safe. Snuff has been linked to numerous other health problems. There are no safe tobacco products. 

There are two types of snuff, moist and dried. Dry snuff is loose powdered tobacco that is sniffed through the nostrils. Moist snuff is cut tobacco that is placed in the mouth. It can be loose or in a pouch. 

Smokeless tobacco contains the following chemicals, which are known to cause cancer:

  • Tobacco-specific N-nitrosamines
  • Cadmium
  • Polonium
  • Formaldehyde
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Lead

All tobacco products, including snuff, contain cancer-causing chemicals and nicotine, which is addictive. Some smokeless tobacco products may contain lower levels of harmful chemicals than smoking, but they still have significant health risks.

Health risks of snuff include:

Cancer. Snuff increases the risk of cancer of the pancreas, throat, and mouth. Smokeless tobacco also increases the risk of developing precancerous lesions called leukoplakia. These are small, white patches in your mouth that can turn into cancer. 

Heart disease. Snuff causes an increase in your heart rate and blood pressure. People who use snuff long-term are twice as likely to die from heart disease as people who don't use any form of tobacco.

Addiction. People who use snuff have levels of nicotine in their bodies that are equal to or higher than people who smoke. Withdrawal from smokeless tobacco is as difficult as smoking and may cause intense cravings, depressed mood, and irritability.   

Dental problems. In addition to increasing your risk of mouth and throat cancer, snuff increases your risk of developing other dental problems as well. Chewing tobacco can contain a lot of sugar. Since it's designed to be held against your teeth, it can cause decay. It can also scratch your teeth.  

Smokeless tobacco irritates your gums which increases your risk of gum disease and receding or swollen gums. It also stains your teeth and causes bad breath. It can cause bone loss around your teeth and can expose the root of the tooth. This can cause your teeth to loosen and fall out. 

Risk of poisoning. Some smokeless tobacco products have a candy-like look and flavor. This can make them especially dangerous for children. Nicotine poisoning in children can cause nausea, vomiting, convulsions, weakness, trouble breathing, unresponsiveness, and death.    

Risk during pregnancy. People who use smokeless tobacco during pregnancy are more likely to have a baby who is born early or stillborn.   

While smokeless tobacco may be promoted as a way to quit smoking, there's no evidence to suggest this is true. Because smokeless tobacco has so many health risks, it's not a good method for quitting smoking. Quitting smokeless tobacco is much the same as quitting smoking. Both involve nicotine and the emotional, physical, and mental aspects of addiction. 

If you have tried to quit and haven't been able to, you're not alone. Only 4% to 7% of people can quit smoking on any attempt without medicine or other help. There's no one way to quit tobacco, but there are steps that can help. 

Decide to quit. You are the only one who can decide to quit tobacco. You may want to quit for others, but you have to make the decision for yourself. Think about reasons you want to quit, which may include: 

  • Avoiding diseases related to smoking
  • Saving money
  • Being healthier
  • Believing the benefits of quitting outweigh the benefits of continuing to use tobacco

Set your quit date. Pick a day within the next month as the day you plan to quit. This is an important step. Picking a day too far away may give you time to change your mind. However, you do want to give yourself time to prepare. You might want to pick a date that has special meaning for you, such as a loved one's birthday. Let other people know the date you plan to quit.

Decide how you're going to quit. There are a lot of options available to help you. Talk to your doctor or dentist for advice. Nicotine replacement therapy, prescription drugs, and quit programs are available and helpful. Getting support is a key part of quitting tobacco. Self-help materials or counselors may be useful. Tell your friends, family, and coworkers that you're quitting so they can offer support and encouragement.