Nicotine and Smokeless Tobacco Addiction

Nicotine and Smokeless Tobacco Addiction : According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) data in 2004, among 3% of U.S. adults 18 years (6% of men and less than 1% women) and above are current users of smokeless tobacco. Since nicotine (addictive) is naturally found in smokeless tobacco, once users become addicted, they find difficult to quit it.

Dr. Hatsukami of the University Of Minnesota School Of Medicine found that nearly 90 percent and above smokeless users have made at least one unsuccessful attempt to quit smokeless tobacco. About 25 percent of participants have made 6 attempts to quit smokeless tobacco unsuccessfully while nearly10 percent of the users have tried to quit it more than 10 times.

How Nicotine Affects the Brain?
Nicotine is a chemical found in the form of colorless liquid in tobacco products. It turns brown when it is burned. The chemical structure of nicotine is similar to that of Acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that aids in nerve cell communication inside the brain. But the function of nicotine is entirely different from that of Acetylecholine. Nicotine causes spontaneous release of other neurotransmitters influencing the mood, memory and appetite. It also stimulates the pancreas to release glucose thereby marginally increasing glucose level inside the body.

In addition, nicotine is responsible for the release of another neurotransmitter, dopamine, inside the pleasure center of the brain. Dopamine release leads to general feeling of well being and relief from stress.

“Nicotine apparently can increase the strength of communication between neurons in the brain by increasing the release of glutamate–the key central nervous system excitatory transmitter,” says Lorna Role, associate professor of Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center and principal investigator. “These presynaptic receptors are ideal targets for nicotine because of their location, high sensitivity to nicotine, and efficacy in enhancing transmitter release.”

How Nicotine Works inside the Body?
In smokeless tobacco users, nicotine enters the bloodstream via the mouth. From there, it is carried forward throughout the body into our brain, heart, blood vessels, glands, etc. Nicotine can also enter into the placenta and can be found inside the amniotic fluid and the blood of umbilical cord. It is suggested that nicotine can stay inside the body for 3-4 days after quitting smokeless tobacco products.

Health Risks of Nicotine in Smokeless Tobacco Users

  • Cancer of the mouth, esophagus, lung, larynx, kidney, bladder, pancreas, etc.
  • Coronary artery disease such as heart attacks and angina.
  • High blood pressure
  • Reduced ability to smell and taste
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Pregnancy-related problems such as low birth weight, miscarriage, premature labor, etc.

Nicotine Withdrawal and Smokeless Tobacco Users
Nicotine withdrawal symptoms in smokeless tobacco users are similar to those quitting cigarettes. Its effect can be both mental and physical. Such symptoms can cause:

  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Anger or frustration
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty in sleeping

Since smokeless tobacco users are also addicted to nicotine, experts believe that users of ST may also use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) for quitting.