At first glance chewing tobacco and smoking may seem like they would have similar effects on users. Learn about the health risks associated with both smoking and chewing tobacco and then decide for yourself if you really want to do either.
Smoking Tobacco: The Health Risks
Smoking tobacco is widely known to contribute to health risks, many of which can be fatal. Risks arising from smoking tobacco include:
- Production of tar - The tar produced from a lit cigarette is a carcinogen and is known to create a high risk of cancer to those who smoke.
- Nicotine addiction - Smoking cigarettes creates an unavoidable addiction for the user that makes it increasingly difficult to give up the longer cigarettes are used.
- Cholesterol effects - Nicotine is also known to have detrimental effects on the body's cholesterol levels. Over time, a rise in cholesterol significantly contributes to heart disease. In the smoker, even after giving up, the effects can take years to return to normal if at all possible.
- Carbon monoxide - The presence of carbon monoxide in the cigarette tar adversely affects the oxygen supply in the bloodstream.
- Cancer - People who smoke are particularly susceptible to mouth/throat cancer and lung cancer along with many other cancers directly linked to smokers.
- Chronic lung disease - Long term smoking is known to cause chronic lung conditions such as chronic obstructive airway disease (COPD), otherwise known as emphysema. This lung damage is irreversible and not necessarily associated with smokers in their senior years. For those with an existing lung problem, such as asthma and bronchitis, smoking causes exacerbation of the symptoms and gives rise to frequent coughs and chest infections.
- Dental and oral damage - The nicotine from smoking stains the teeth and gums.
- Skin damage - Due to the poor blood supply, particularly to small blood capillaries, smoking can cause irreparable harm to the skin and complexion.
- Fertility problems - Couples trying to conceive may experience fertility issues if one or both partners is a tobacco smoker.
The list above certainly illustrates a comprehensive list of reasons why tobacco smoking is harmful to health and your overall well being.
Chewing Tobacco: The Health Risks
The use of chewing tobacco is wide spread and often wrongly used as a perceived "healthier alternative" to smoking tobacco. The following list includes well-documented harmful effects of chewing tobacco.
- Dental harm - Due to the direct contact of the chewing tobacco with the mouth and teeth, the effects of the nicotine lead to gum disease over time. Chewing tobacco contains a high sugar content and, just as with eating too many sweets, tooth decay can become a huge problem with prolonged use.
- Heart problems - The use of chewing tobacco contributes to an elevated blood pressure and heart rate. A rise in cholesterol levels is another known hazard.
- Pre-cancerous mouth sores - With prolonged use of chewing tobacco comes the likelihood of "leukoplakia". These are small white patches on the inside of the oral cavity. These areas are believed pre-cancerous with a strong likelihood of developing into true cancer over time. Oral cancer can be extensive in people who use chewing tobacco, and facial disfigurement can be a secondary issue following necessary surgery to remove cancers that are present.
Comparing the Risks
Both chewing tobacco and smoking can cause major health issues and death. Although chewing tobacco currently causes fewer annual deaths, there has been an increase in use, especially amongst younger people. This may sway the numbers down the line and offer a more helpful comparison to the heath issues that can accompany both smoking and chewing tobacco products. Some notable comparisons to consider:
- Chewing tobacco carries a lower risk for causing heart related issues when compared to smoking. However, chewing tobacco does cause an immediate spike in the user's heart rate and blood pressure.
- Chewing tobacco and smoking can lead to ingesting similar amounts of nicotine.
- Some studies have shown that chewing tobacco and other smokeless tobacco products actually can have up to four times as much nicotine compared to cigarettes.
- The risk of getting cancer from chewing tobacco is has been noted as lower when compared to cigarettes, but those who chew have a 60 percent chance of contracting leukoplakia within just six months of regular use, and have a higher incidence of oral cancer compared to non-smokers.
- People who have smoked for the majority of their life have about a 50 percent chance of passing away from tobacco related health issues.
- Cigarette smoking causes around 480,000 deaths per year in just the United States and smokeless tobacco causes around 250,000 deaths per year.
Regular use of chewing tobacco may be slightly less unhealthy when compare to regular cigarette use, although both can have lethal consequences. If you examine both lists, there is mention of potentially fatal effects, uncomfortable symptoms, and bodily damage from both smoking and chewing tobacco. Both methods of using tobacco could potentially lead to early death due to cancer and heart or lung damage.
A Potentially Fatal Choice
Chewing tobacco may have a lower risk factor when it comes to related cancer and heart issues, but it can have a higher addictive potential and cause an increase in oral health issues for the user. When trying to decide which tobacco product is safer to use, keep in mind how damaging both smokeless tobacco products and regular tobacco products can be. At the end of the day, neither of them offer a healthy choice.