What Is Smokeless Tobacco?
Smokeless tobacco, also called spit tobacco, chewing tobacco, chew, chaw, dip, plug, and probably a few other things, comes in two forms: snuff and chewing tobacco.
Snuff is a fine-grain tobacco that often comes in teabag-like pouches that users “pinch” or “dip” between their lower lip and gum. Chewing tobacco comes in shredded, twisted, or “bricked” tobacco leaves that users put between their cheek and gum. Whether it’s snuff or chewing tobacco,you’re supposed to let it sit in your mouth and suck on the tobacco juices, spitting often to get rid of the saliva that builds up. This sucking and chewing allows nicotine, which is a drug you can become addicted to, to be absorbed into the bloodstream through the tissues in your mouth. You don’t even need to swallow.
Where Does It Come From?
Smokeless tobacco has been around for a long time. Native people of North and South America chewed tobacco, and snorting and chewing snuff was popular in Europe and Scandinavia (the word “snuff” comes from the Scandinavian word “snus”).
In the United States, chewing tobacco has long been associated with baseball. Players chewed it to keep their mouths moist, spit it into their gloves to soften them up, and used it to make a “spitball,” a special pitch that involved the pitcher dabbing the ball with saliva to cause it to spin off the fingers easily and break sharply. By the 1950s, chewing tobacco had fallen out of favor in most of America, so by that time not too many baseball players were spitting big brown gobs all over the infield. Instead of chewing their tobacco, most people were smoking it.
But, in the 1970s, people became more aware of the dangers of smoking. Thinking it was a safe alternative to lighting up, baseball players started chewing on their tobacco again. Some players even developed the habit of mixing their chewing tobacco with bubble gum and chewing the whole thing.
These days, you don’t find the majority of professional ballplayers with wads of chaw in their cheeks. But lots of guys and girls, athletes or not, still find time for chewing and spitting.
As many as 20% of high school boys and 2% of high school girls use smokeless tobacco, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of the 12 to 14 million American users, one third are under age 21, and more than half of those developed the habit before they were 13. Peer pressure is just one of the reasons for starting the habit. Serious users often graduate from brands that deliver less nicotine to stronger ones. With each use, you need a little more of the drug to get the same feeling.