If you think that smoking cigarettes isn’t healthy but snuff is safe, think again. Snuff is a tobacco product. Like cigarettes, it contains harmful chemicals that can raise your risk of many health problems. However, the exposure level to these chemicals is lower than that of smoked tobacco products.

Similar to other tobacco products like cigarettes, pipe tobacco, and chewing tobacco, snuff should be considered unhealthy and may lead to the development of a substance use disorder.

To produce snuff, tobacco is dried and finely ground. There are two main types of snuff: dried and moist.

In a 2014 report, the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that more than 40 types of smokeless tobacco products are used by nose or mouth by more than 300 million people around the world — including snuff.

To use dried snuff, you inhale the ground tobacco into your nasal cavity. To use moist snuff, also known as “dipping,” you put the tobacco between your lower lip or cheek and gum. The nicotine from the tobacco is absorbed through the lining of your nose or mouth.

The CDC warns that smokeless tobacco products are harmful to your health and contain nicotine, which has a strong link to the development of addiction.

You might think that using snuff isn’t as dangerous as smoking because you’re not inhaling smoke into your lungs. However, snuff can still negatively affect your body.

Like other forms of tobacco, snuff contains chemicals that can cause cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), people who dip or chew snuff ingest about as much nicotine as people who regularly smoke cigarettes. Also, they get exposed to more than 25 chemicals known to cause cancer.

Tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) are the strongest of the cancer-causing substances in smokeless tobacco. TSNA levels differ among products. Those with higher levels carry a greater risk of negative health effects.

The CDC warns that smokeless products can raise your risk of several types of cancer, including:

The CDC also warns that using smokeless tobacco products may:

  • increase your risk of death from heart disease and stroke
  • increase the chance of premature birth and stillbirth if you’re pregnant
  • cause nicotine poisoning in children if they accidentally ingest the substance

A 2019 research review involving 20 studies over 4 global regions found a significant association between smokeless tobacco use and risk of death from coronary heart disease, especially among European users. The researchers pointed to the need to include smokeless tobacco in public tobacco cessation efforts.

Using moist snuff can also:

  • yellow your teeth
  • sour your breath
  • lead to tooth decay and gum infections, and in some cases jaw complications or loss of teeth resulting in bone loss and face disfigurement

Since 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States has required one of four warnings on all smokeless tobacco products:

  • WARNING: This product can cause mouth cancer.
  • WARNING: This product can cause gum disease and tooth loss.
  • WARNING: This product is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.
  • WARNING: Smokeless tobacco is addictive.

In 2019, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in the United States was amended. This raised the federal minimum age of sale of all tobacco products, including snuff, from 18 to 21 years.

What about snus?

Snus is a type of moist snuff that originated in Sweden. It has a long history of use in Sweden, but a modern version is available and gaining in popularity. This is because snus is often flavored and comes in small pouches that don’t require spitting for use. Some versions of it are now available in the United States.

In 2019, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health expressed concern over the increased use of Swedish snus in Norway, especially among young people who have never smoked. They also expressed concern that, on average, the products sold in 2015 had more nicotine than those available in 2005.

In Norway, between 2016 and 2018, 33 percent of men and 40 percent of women interviewed had no history of smoking prior to trying snus. About 20 percent of adult men and 5 percent of adult women in Norway use snus daily.

The 2019 Norwegian public health report warns that the use of Swedish moist oral snuff (snus) may be associated with an increased risk of:

  • various cancers and increased mortality after cancer
  • high blood pressure
  • cardiovascular diseases
  • metabolic syndrome (with high use)
  • psychosis
  • harm to the child during pregnancy
  • type 2 diabetes (with high use)

Because it has a high risk of addiction, snuff can be challenging to quit. If you’ve developed a snuff addiction, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help you develop a plan to quit.

For example, they might recommend a combination of nicotine replacement therapy, prescription medications, counseling, or other strategies.

Nicotine replacement therapy

When you quit nicotine, you might have unpleasant symptoms such as withdrawal. To manage your symptoms, your doctor may recommend nicotine replacement therapy. It provides doses of nicotine without the other harmful chemicals found in tobacco.

You can find nicotine patches, lozenges, gums, and other nicotine replacement products at most drugstores. You don’t need a prescription to buy them.

Prescription medication

Some prescription medications can also help you quit using tobacco. For example, your doctor might prescribe buproprion (Zyban). Ask your doctor for more information about the potential benefits and risks of this medication.

The only other prescription smoking cessation drug approved by the FDA, varenicline (Chantix), has been temporarily withdrawn from the market by its manufacturer Pfizer beginning in July 2021. Pfizer withdrew the medication due to unacceptable amounts of a potential carcinogen, N-nitroso-varenicline.

As of November 2021, the temporary recall is still in effect. The FDA has allowed use of a Canadian version of the medication temporarily to maintain the supply.

Counseling

A mental health counselor can help you recover from addiction. They can also help you manage your triggers and withdrawal symptoms, and maintain your motivation. Consider asking your doctor for a referral to a counselor.

Every state, as well as the District of Columbia, offers a free phone-based tobacco cessation program.

These services can connect you with mental health professionals. They can help you find ways to cope without tobacco, give you a safe place to talk about your concerns, and point you toward other free resources to help you give up tobacco for good.

Social support

While some people prefer one-on-one counseling, others may find success in larger group settings. For example, programs such as Nicotine Anonymous offer support group sessions for people coping with nicotine addiction.

In these sessions, you can connect with others who are trying to stop using tobacco products. You can provide each other with motivation and social support. They can also share concrete strategies for changing your lifestyle.

Your friends and family can also provide essential support. Tell them about your goal to quit and let them know how they can help you. For example, if certain places or activities increase your tobacco cravings, ask your loved ones to help you avoid these triggers when you’re spending time together.

When you stop using snuff, you’ll likely experience withdrawal symptoms. According to the ACS, you might temporarily experience the following symptoms when you quit tobacco:

In time, these symptoms will start to go away, and you’ll begin to feel better. In the meantime, ask your doctor how you can limit and manage withdrawal symptoms using treatments including:

  • nicotine replacement therapy
  • prescription medications
  • counseling

Quitting also comes with many health benefits. Cutting snuff and other tobacco products from your life will lower your chances of developing:

  • cancer
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease

It will also give your mouth the opportunity to heal if you’ve developed sores or infections on your lips, gums, or cheeks.

It’s not easy to break a snuff addiction. But with support from your family, friends, and doctor, you can safely stop using these products. A combination of nicotine replacement therapy, prescription medication, counseling, or other treatments can increase your chances of recovery.

Recovery from tobacco use disorder looks different for everyone. There may be some bumps along the road, potentially even some setbacks, but know that this is normal. Keep your individual goals in mind and celebrate the “wins” along the way as you leave tobacco behind for good.