The Changing Face of Smokeless Tobacco

Smokeless Advocacy

Smokeless tobacco has been around a lot longer than cigarettes, and while many more people smoke, smokeless tobacco is making a comeback. This is partly because smoking has become increasingly shunned and the public is much more aware of the dangers of smoking and of secondhand smoke (SHS) than of smokeless tobacco. As smoking bans have become more common smokers, have turned to smokeless products to maintain their addiction in situations where they are not allowed to smoke.

There are more choices of smokeless tobacco products now. Over the past 10 years, the tobacco industry has emphasized its smokeless products. A ton of new products are on the market and they come in more flavors than ever. Many of these products are more “affordable”; either because the products come in smaller packs or because they’re actually cheaper. These products are being marketed to smokers and nonsmokers alike as something you can do even in places where smoking is banned. The industry is putting its marketing muscle behind these products like never before.

However, there are major challenges for society as smokeless tobacco use increases. Smokeless does not mean harmless—smokeless products are just dangerous in different ways than cigarettes. Another major concern is that smokers may begin to use smokeless tobacco products when they can’t smoke in public, leading to a stronger nicotine addiction that makes it harder for them to quit.

Finally, these products have great appeal to young people. Many come in flavors and packaging that attract kids, and some are even similar in size and shape to candy and mints. Parents and teachers may not recognize this packaging as tobacco. Many people don’t see these products as disgusting—the way some older forms of smokeless tobacco were seen—and they do not carry as great a stigma as cigarettes.

Smokeless Tobacco as a Youth Gateway Product

In the U.S., smokeless tobacco sales have increased over the last several years, even as smoking rates have continued to decline. Since 1970,1 smokeless tobacco has gone from a product used primarily by older men to one used predominantly by young men and boys. In Florida, smokeless tobacco use has trended upward over the past five years among Florida’s youth: 6.4 percent of Florida’s high school students reported smokeless tobacco use in 2010, compared with 4.9 percent in 2005.2

Smokeless tobacco products come in flavors and packaging that appeal to youth. Young people erroneously believe these products to be less harmful than their non-flavored counterparts.3 In addition, new dissolvable tobacco products like orbs (dissolvable tobacco pellets), sticks, and strips, closely resemble gum, candy, and breath strips. Candy and fruit flavors mask the bad taste of tobacco, making it easier for kids to start using tobacco products.

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