The Colorado Tobacco Education and Prevention Alliance

Spit Tobacco Fact Sheet


  • Spit (smokeless) tobacco includes snuff, a finely ground version of processed tobacco, and chewing tobacco in the form of shredded or pressed bricks and cakes, called plugs, or rope-like strands called twists. Users “pinch” or “dip” tobacco and place a wad in their cheek or between their lower lip and gums. (1)
  • Current spit tobacco use among Colorado’s high school students is higher than the national average (9 percent in CO vs. 6.6 percent nationally). (11)
  • About 8,000 people die every year from smokeless tobacco use. About 70 percent of those deaths are from oral cancer. Other cancers caused by tobacco include cancer of the pancreas, nasal cavity, urinary tract, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, intestines and the stomach. (1)
  • Kids who use spit products are 4 to 6 times more likely to develop oral cancer than non-users, and tobacco juice-related cancers can form within five years of regular use. Among high school seniors who have ever used spit tobacco, three-fourths began by the ninth grade. (1)
  • The concentrations of the cancer causing chemicals in smokeless tobacco are much higher than in cigarette tobacco. (2)
  • Smokeless tobacco is associated with cancers of the cheek, gums, and inner surface of the lips. Smokeless tobacco increases the risk of these cancers by about 50 times. (3)
  • 59 percent of major league baseball players who chew tobacco and volunteered for oral examinations had tobacco-related lesions, and 11 percent were serious enough to require biopsies. (6)
  • Cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx accounted for about 30,500 new cases of cancer and about 8,350 deaths in 1990. Although oral cancer comprises only 3 percent of all cancers in the United States, only one-half of those individuals affected by oral cancer will be alive 5 years after diagnosis. About 75 percent of these cancers are attributable to tobacco use. (7)
  • Smokeless tobacco contains high quantities of sugar. This sugar mixed with the plaque on your teeth forms acids that eat away at the tooth’s enamel, causing cavities. (5)

Smokeless Tobacco and Nicotine:

  • Some people wrongly believe that spit tobacco is safer than smoking cigarettes. But spit tobacco is more addictive because it contains higher levels of addictive nicotine than cigarettes and can be harder to quit than cigarettes. (1)
  • A 2-can-a-week dipper gets as much nicotine as a 1 pack-a-day smoker. (9)
  • One can of Copenhagen contains as much nicotine as three packs of cigarettes. (10)
  • (Tobacco companies) make “starter” packs with less nicotine and add flavorings such as mint and cherry, so that it’s not as strong or as bad tasting as full-strength spit tobacco to get (kids) used to it. (8)



(1) American Academy of General Dentistry

(2) American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery

(3) American Cancer Society

(4) Connecticut Tobacco Control Clearinghouse

(5) American Academy of Otolaryngology

(6) “Something to Chew ON,” Washington Post, April 1, 1998, p. C6

(7) National Spit Tobacco Education Program (NSTEP)

(8) National Cancer Institute, Tobacco Research Branch

(9) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service

(10) K. Tilashalski , et al, “Assessing the nicotine content of smokeless tobacco products,” Journal of the American Dental Association, May 1994; 125(5): 559-68

(11) “Youth Tobacco Use in Colorado, Results from the Colorado Youth Tobacco Survey,” The State Tobacco Education and Prevention Partnership, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Executive Summary, April 2001, p. 6,7.