How I Finally Quit Smokeless Tobacco
I Quit (Again and Again and Again and Again)!
On February 18, 2013, I gave up "dipping" smokeless tobacco. I'd been a slave to this nasty habit since my teenage years, and at age 43 it was time for it to go.
Mark Twain once famously said, "Quitting smoking is easy - I've done it hundreds of times." The same can be said for "dipping." I had tried quitting many times before, but to paraphrase Al Pacino in The Godfather Part III, "just when I thought I was out, it pulled me back in."
I'm not going to preach in this article, and I'm not going to blast you with medical facts and figures or gross-out pictures to demonstrate how dumb, dangerous, and potentially deadly smokeless tobacco can be. I'm sure you know already that tobacco in general is not very good for you. You probably also know how hard it is to kick this habit, even if you're really sincere about it. I just want to share my story and hope that it inspires at least one person out there in Readerland to put down their "dip," or their cigarettes, cigars, etc., for good.
Pacino knows the score.
How did I end up a hopelessly addicted "dipper?" I didn't fit the stereotype of the typical tobacco "chewer." I live in New Jersey, not the rural South. Smokeless tobacco users are a rare breed in my suburban neck o' the woods.
I first tasted smokeless tobacco at the age of 13 when an older cousin offered me a "dip" of Hawken, a wintergreen-flavored tobacco that was popular at the time. My response obviously should've been, "You gotta be kidding," but for some stupid reason I was curious enough to try some. I didn't get hooked that day, but I remember liking the taste and thinking "Hey, this isn't bad."
A year or so later I was on a fishing trip in Upstate New York with my father and brother, and Dad bought a can of "Skoal Bandits" (a pre-measured "pouch" of tobacco wrapped in what appeared to be a tiny tea bag). Dad was usually a cigarette smoker, but he would switch to "chew" on fishing trips so he wouldn't leave crushed-out cigarette butts all over the boat or in the lake.
Oddly enough, even as a kid I hated the fact that my Dad smoked, but I found "chew" intriguing. Dad didn't care for the Bandits' flavor, and one fateful morning my brother and I found the nearly-full canister sitting unattended on the fireplace mantle in our cabin. We each stole a couple of the little pouches (mint flavored!), figuring Dad wouldn't notice... and we actually enjoyed them.
We later learned that Dad did indeed take note of our thievery, but he was sure we'd be so grossed out by the experience that we'd swear never to touch that stuff again. Unfortunately, Dad's little experiment in reverse psychology backfired. By the time we got home from that fishing trip, I was well on my way to being a full time chew-head. I tried every brand I could get my hands on, eventually settling on Beech Nut Chewing Tobacco and Skoal Long Cut Mint "dip" as my "go-to" brands. Months later Mom found a half chewed pack of Beech Nut sticking out of my jacket pocket, asked where I'd picked up such a disgusting habit, and my panicked reply was, "Ummmmm, from Dad!" Of course, when she went to Dad and told him what I'd said, his response was an exasperated, "He wasn't supposed to LIKE it!" I don't think Dad ever quite forgave me for throwing him under the bus like that and I still feel guilty about it to this very day. (Sorry, Pop.)
Red Man tobacco commercial circa 1986
"What're you, stupid?"
In the early 1980s, chewing tobacco and "dip" was still very under-the-radar when it came to health concerns. It was already a well documented fact that cigarettes were bad for you and I'd had plenty of anti-smoking propaganda drilled into me at school, but I don't remember a single word ever being said about smokeless or chewing tobacco. Packages of chew and "dip" didn't have warning labels on them like cigarette packs did, and there was no "You Must be 18 Years of Age To Buy This Product" rule either. Cigarette ads may have been banished from the TV airwaves before I was born, but commercials for Skoal and other smokeless tobacco products were visible well into the mid 1980s. These oversights have all been corrected in the years since, but at the time I took full advantage of the lack of regulations. I didn't think chewing or dipping was a "safer" habit than smoking - I was dumb, but I wasn't an idiot - but at the very least, I saw it as a lesser evil.
It didn't take long before the chorus of "You gotta quit that stuff! It's gonna give you mouth cancer! You're gonna lose all your teeth! etc., etc." rose up from my family and friends... but it was too late. I was hooked, and I was also too dumb/proud/thick headed to ask for help with quitting. (They probably would've had better luck if they'd simply told me, "You'lll never get a girlfriend if you're spitting that nasty @#$% all the time!") Instead, I became very skilled at smuggling my 'supply' in and out of the house.
Soon I was off to college and living in a dorm, so secrecy weren't an issue anymore. As the years went on and my tastes changed, I stopped using so-called "leaf" or "loose" tobacco ala Red Man, Beech Nut, etc. entirely, in favor of using canned "dip" exclusively. In addition, I also moved away from the Skoal family and sampled countless other brands of "dip" over the next several years including "Rooster," "Kodiak," "Red Seal," "Kayak," and "Timber Wolf" before eventually settling on my most recent (until I quit) favorite, "Longhorn."
Skoal Long Cut TV Commercial
"I Wish I Knew How to Quit You!"
I first tried to quit "dip" while in college. I doubt that I was inspired by any sort of concern for my health; more than likely, I simply wanted to save my meager stash of spending money for more important college-student stuff, like CDs, concert tickets and 40-ounce beers. The experience didn't go very well. I'd read previously that nicotine withdrawal could actually be worse than giving up heroin, and I'd said "Awww, that's a bunch of bullsh*t" -- until I tried it. WOW, did that suck! I was sleepless for days, suffered from an inability to focus, and experienced major Irritability. I was absolutely unbearable to be around for the week or two that I kept off the stuff, before I finally went "It ain't worth it!"
There were many more attempts at quitting as over the years. I tried before I got married. I tried after I got married. I tried before the birth of my first son, tried again before the birth of my second son, and tried yet again most recently when I turned 40. Sometimes it would "take" for a while, and I'd stay "on the wagon" for a couple of months (one time I lasted almost a year and a half) but something - stress at work, a death in the family, any sort of crisis - would always send me running back to my old habit.
However, as I grew older I became more concerned about the potentially damaging effects of my constant dipping. My children also old enough to understand that Daddy's habit was not good for him, and were very vocal about letting me know it. Thankfully (knock on wood) I still had all my teeth and regular dentist visits showed nothing out the ordinary, but I would still panic any time I felt a sore spot in my mouth, or whenever I came down with a sore throat, thinking "Is this... it?" Eventually I came to the realization that it was no longer worth the stress, the expense, or the hassle.
UPDATE: February 18, 2020
It's February 18, 2020, and today I am celebrating SEVEN YEARS without tobacco. I don't even salivate when I see the smokeless-tobacco display in the convenience store anymore. After all this time I think I can say with confidence that I am over the hump, and hopefully I will be able to keep the nicotine demon away for the rest of my life. Thanks to everyone who's read and commented on this article for your continued support. Giving "advice" is not my usual area of expertise, but I had to get this out of my system.
And hey, if there are any youngsters out there reading this who've recently picked up the dip habit... take it from an old hand: Quit. Now. Yeah, nicotine withdrawal sucks, but it beats the alternative.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2013 Keith Abt