If you think smokeless tobacco isn't as dangerous as cigarettes, think again. Numerous studies are showing similar health problems associated with smokeless tobacco as with smoking. There are two types of smokeless tobacco: snuff and chewing tobacco. Snuff tobacco is finely ground and is typically placed between the cheek and gum. Chewing tobacco is available in either loose leaf or twist forms. Flavored tobacco lozenges also exist.

No matter what form it takes, smokeless tobacco products allow tobacco to be absorbed by the digestive system or through mucous membranes and can have similar effects on the digestive system as smoking. Health risks include heartburn, peptic ulcers, and an increased risk for Crohn's disease. The tobacco connection in digestive problems stems from the nicotine in tobacco, which causes the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, valve to relax, allowing stomach acids to flow up to the esophagus. This can cause heartburn, acid reflux, and in advanced stages of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), possibly throat cancer and esophageal cancer. Smoking or chewing tobacco has also been shown to reduce the effectiveness of saliva to break down foods in the digestive process.

Smokeless tobacco is even more addictive than smoking because the amount of nicotine-an addictive substance-absorbed into the bloodstream from smokeless tobacco is three to four times greater than the amount delivered by cigarettes and it stays in the bloodstream longer. According to the National Institutes of Health, chewing on an average-size piece of smokeless tobacco for 30 minutes delivers as much nicotine as smoking three cigarettes.

In addition to the digestive problems associated with it, smokeless tobacco also contains at least 28 cancer-causing substances and has been linked to a variety of oral cancers, including cancers of the lip, tongue, cheeks, gums and the floor and roof of the mouth; causes gum disease and may put you at increased risk for heart disease, diabetes and reproductive problems.

Despite the dire consequences, the number of smokeless tobacco users is on the rise. One reason may be that users falsely believe that smokeless tobacco is safe. And many people who want to stop smoking, but still crave nicotine, take up it up thinking it will help them quit smoking. It won't. If you're a smokeless tobacco user, make a plan to quit and ask your doctor if a nicotine replacement product would be helpful for you.