In recent years, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on quitting smoking - and for good reason.
The American Cancer Society says smoking takes the lives of more than 400,000 Americans each year.
Unfortunately, another message also seems to be surfacing more and more: If you want to quit smoking and you're still addicted to nicotine, use smokeless tobacco as a safer and smoke free alternative.
However, smokeless is not safer.
Smokeless tobacco goes by many names - dip, chew, snuff and pouch are only a few.
The ingredients are mostly the same; the difference is in the texture. Each year, an estimated 10 to 16 million Americans use spit tobacco, according to University of Michigan medical officials.
Besides highly-addictive nicotine, smokeless tobacco contains silica, a finely ground sand that abrades, or roughs up, the soft tissue in the mouth so that the nicotine gets to the blood stream faster.
Silica also grinds or flattens out the enamel surface of the teeth.
It's no surprise that smokeless tobacco ruins your teeth, it ruins your gums, it ruins the bone around your teeth and it puts you at risk for oral cancer.
And oral cancer victims have a very low survival rate.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 3 percent of all cancers are oral cancer, and oral cancer patients have a lower survival rate than other kinds of cancers.
Oral cancer often appears as a white or red patch on the tongue or gums - often in the spot where the spit tobacco is held.
Surgery is usually necessary to cut away the malignancy.
But generally, surgeons aren't able to simply remove the patch, but must follow the malignant cells much farther into the mouth.
If oral cancer is discovered on the inside of the lower lip, generally the poor patient will lose not only the lower lip, but the lower front teeth and possibly part of the chin.
Smokeless tobacco users should make sure that every visit to the dentist includes an oral cancer screening exam.
This involves touching the tongue, feeling underneath it, looking at all the structures in the mouth, and around the chin and neck for lumps and bumps, University of Michigan medical experts said.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that as many as 20 percent of high school boys use spit tobacco.
Obviously, the easiest way to quit is not to start.
Once they start, it's very difficult to stop.
The problem with smokeless tobacco is that it has more nicotine in a single pinch, dip or wad than one cigarette, so you become addicted more quickly than you do with cigarettes, experts said.
People who quit using spit tobacco have nicotine withdrawal symptoms that are the same as those for people who try to stop smoking, including cravings, irritability and hunger.
Facts about smokeless tobacco:
- Smokeless tobacco can be just as harmful as other types of tobacco. It can cause cancer, especially in the lips, cheeks, gums and throat.
- Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, sometimes combined with heavy drinking, are the primary causes of oral cancers. Oral cancer victims have one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers.
- The nicotine in smokeless tobacco is more than four times that in cigarettes. Consequently, those who use smokeless tobacco can become addicted more quickly.
- In addition to nicotine, smokeless tobacco contains silica that roughs up the mouth's soft tissues and flattens out the enamel surfaces of the teeth.