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May 16, 2013

Smokeless Tobacco Trends in Adolescents

Smokeless tobacco use remains unchanged between 2000 and 2011 among middle and high school students.

Several anti-smoking efforts have been taken in recent years to help keep cigarettes out of the hands of children. Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, and children who smoke are more likely to continue the habit as they get older. Through anti-smoking campaigns and laws that prevent tobacco companies from marketing to children, substantial progress has been made since the ‘90s to decrease cigarette smoking among adolescents. However, the same can’t be said about smokeless tobacco use in recent years, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

This survey study collected information from more than 35,000 U.S. middle and high school students between 2000 and 2011 on tobacco use, as part of the National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS). Survey responses were voluntary and anonymous, and questions defined smokeless tobacco as snuff, chewing and dipping tobacco. Overall, researchers found that there was no significant change in smokeless tobacco use in adolescents and smokeless tobacco use stayed around 5% during this 11-year period. However, they did notice some trends in tobacco use within certain age groups. Smokeless tobacco use significantly declined among middle school students and those between the ages of 9 to 11, but increased in teens ages 15 to 17.

So what can we learn from these findings? First, it’s reassuring to learn that smokeless tobacco use is generally low among adolescents. However, the fact that smokeless tobacco use remained unchanged between 2000 and 2011 is concerning. Smokeless tobacco carries similar health risks as cigarettes, and the goal is to eliminate tobacco use among children. Experts suggest that the use of flavors, free samples, and low tax rates on smokeless tobacco may have prevented a decline in its use, and policy makers should focus on addressing these issues to reduce tobacco use among adolescents. Also, additional efforts are needed to further prevent smokeless tobacco use among older teens. If smokeless tobacco use increased among children ages 15 to 17, current laws are not completely effective in keeping these products out of their hands.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is smokeless tobacco?
  • Smokeless tobacco is tobacco that is not burned, and includes snuff, chewing and dipping tobacco. Smokeless tobacco contains cancer-causing agents, and users have an increased risk of developing oral cancer, esophageal cancer and pancreatic cancer. Smokeless tobacco is no safer than cigarettes and use of these products is strongly discouraged. For more information or help quitting, see our resource page.
  • Is smokeless tobacco addictive?
  • Yes. Smokeless tobacco contains nicotine, which is addictive. Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco contain similar levels of nicotine, and are both known to cause cancer. For more information or help quitting, see our resource page.


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