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How I Finally Quit Smokeless Tobacco

Author:

I'm Keith, an aging hard rock and metal fanboy, movie buff, and all around retro pop culture nerd from the Garden State.

The end of an era: this was my last-ever can of tobacco. As soon as I finished it, I officially announced that I was quitting.

The end of an era: this was my last-ever can of tobacco. As soon as I finished it, I officially announced that I was quitting.

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.

Hooked...

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

Comments

Suzie from Carson City on April 28, 2016:

Congratulations. Good for you. One less bad habit is always a good thing! I know, I know.....that was the ONLY bad habit you had and now you're perfect. Of course I realize this.

People who have never become addicted to anything really don't "get" how difficult it can be to stop. You should be proud.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 18, 2016:

Updated as I have now been tobacco free for THREE YEARS!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on December 04, 2015:

Hi Helga - thanks for the kind words, I think I'm over the hump now after all this time but I still occasionally get a "crave attack"...thankfully they're fewer and farther between... I guess once you give up a habit like this it hangs around the fringes of your psyche for the rest of your life...but I'm staying strong!!

Helga Silva from USA on December 04, 2015:

Congratulations! Looks like you don't miss it.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 07, 2015:

Updated as I approach the two-and-a-half year mark without tobacco!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on June 14, 2015:

Hi jmatthewdobson... I can relate, I fell into the "one dip won't hurt" trap many times when I tried to quit in the past...and it always ended in a backslide.

Joseph Matthew Dobson on June 14, 2015:

Enjoyed reading this. Dipping is immensely popular here in Texas and I couldn't tell you how many times I've tried to kick the can. I made it six months at one time, but unfortunately I fell off the wagon once more when offered some of it at a Thanksgiving get-together. I decided, "Sure, one little dip won't hurt..." Nope, after that, it was "one can won't hurt"...I think you know the story from there. And those nicotine urges ARE tough to get through.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on April 01, 2015:

thanks Peach -- it's now been two years since I quit and I hope that means I'm off the stuff for life!!

peachy from Home Sweet Home on April 01, 2015:

congrats, my dad stopped smoking when he had high blood pressure, it was immediate action

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 18, 2015:

Thanx Thief! It's been a quick two years!

Carlo Giovannetti from Puerto Rico on February 18, 2015:

Congrats again!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 18, 2015:

Updated to announce that I have now been tobacco free for TWO YEARS!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 14, 2014:

Updated as I approach my year-and-a-half anniversary without tobacco!!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 18, 2014:

Thanks sujaya... so far, it's been going well!

sujaya venkatesh on February 18, 2014:

good luck fat

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 18, 2014:

Thanx Thief!! Onward and upward!!

Carlo Giovannetti from Puerto Rico on February 18, 2014:

Congrats! Keep it up.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 18, 2014:

Thank you, Anna. Hopefully it will be the first year of many to come. :D

Anna Haven from Scotland on February 18, 2014:

Well done you, congrats on a year. :)

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 18, 2014:

Updated since I have been tobacco free for ONE YEAR as of today!!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on December 16, 2013:

THREE HUNDRED tobacco free days as of yesterday!! Can I get a WOOT??

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on November 25, 2013:

275 tobacco free days thus far!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on November 02, 2013:

Hi Muttface...yep, I'm still off of it... Celebrated my 250th day about a week ago. Thanks for asking.

Muttface from Portugal on November 02, 2013:

You still off it then?

I tried Betel Nut while I was in Asia. Ever heard of it? It was funny seeing the blood like streaks running down the streets and the old ladies with ruby teeth.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on September 14, 2013:

Thanx BDC.

BlackDiamondCheesehead on September 13, 2013:

Congratulations,man - I know it can't be easy...

I bet your children are your biggest source of inspiration - I know when I go through some tough times, my daughter always gives me strength...

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on September 05, 2013:

Thanx Geekdom! Onward and upward!!

Geekdom on September 05, 2013:

Congratulations!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on September 05, 2013:

Today is my 200th day without tobacco! Woohoo!!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 14, 2013:

Hi Geekdom - thanks for the kind words. I still get the occasional craving so I know that on some level I'll never be totally "out of the woods" .. but for now at least, onward and upward.

Geekdom on August 14, 2013:

Congratulations! Great story and hub. I quick smoking 5 years ago and I still find days that I crave it, but always I remember how hard (I quit a lot previously) it was and how I don't want to have to do that again.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 13, 2013:

In three days, I will have been tobacco free for SIX MONTHS. Woot!!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on May 28, 2013:

I have now been tobacco free for one hundred days!!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on May 16, 2013:

12 tobacco free weeks and counting!!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on April 30, 2013:

Yes it has!! Thanks for checking!!

...I suppose the fact that I'm no longer obsessively counting the days and weeks is a very good sign!!

Zeke Love on April 30, 2013:

Has it been 10 weeks now?

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on April 15, 2013:

Eight tobacco-free weeks for me. Woohoo!!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on April 05, 2013:

Hi Lorne - thanks for the well wishes and congrats to you on being able to give up the "evil dip."

This is not my first attempt at quitting but hopefully it will be my last. I know all too well that it's going to try to "get back in" my life, probably forever, but for now at least, the road ahead looks good.

Lorne Carter from Fayetteville, Arkansas on April 03, 2013:

Congratulations – I was a former dipper for 14 years before the first time I quit. A mixture of ripping a big piece of skin from my lip, soon to be wife and I didn’t want to bring the tobacco into our relationship & Welburton, which is like the other drug at the time that was popular for quitting nicotine let to the first demise. I quit and stayed off for 5 years.

But alas she came back. Not sure how.. yeah I was at a college football game with friends and one time won’t hurt. Got hooked again and until my first daughter came into the world did I finally consider quitting. Actually the tipping point was when they discontinued the Berry Blend pouches. I liked those because they didn’t have that nasty smell that tipped off my family and co-workers. So instead of searching for a replacement, I just said as a consumer if you don’t want to make what I buy, I won’t buy. Maybe not the traditional way of quitting, but quitting none the less.

Now I do chew 10 pieces or so of Nicorette a day. So I still haven’t found a way to deal with a high stress job and an oral fixation problem. Yes I know I’m still at risk for high blood pressure, but at least the cancer isn’t a concern anymore. And I have fresh breath….

Stick with it and remember… it’s always going to try to get back in your life be it 5 minutes or 5 years from now. The trick is to remember not to even leave a crack in the door where it can slither back in.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on April 01, 2013:

Six tobacco-free weeks as of yesterday. Woohoo!!!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on March 18, 2013:

Four weeks without tobacco, as of yesterday. Wonder of wonders!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on March 13, 2013:

Hi Calculus - nope, I've never tried it. I was chewing the hell out of regular Bazooka for the first week or so though. Haha. Thanks for the kind wishes.

calculus-geometry on March 13, 2013:

Good luck with everything! Did you ever try the nicotine gum?

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on March 11, 2013:

It's now been three weeks without tobacco for me. Wooooot!!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on March 04, 2013:

Thanx for the kind words and well wishes, Bishop... so far so good, today was my fifteenth tobacco-free day and I haven't killed anybody yet. :D

Rebecca from USA on March 04, 2013:

Best of luck to you! I'm 5 days smoke free. I say smoke free because I'm vaping. I know...I suck. But I have to start somewhere. I've tried quitting cold turkey 3x and failed. Vaping is ok with me right now. I get my nicotine, minus the other poison. Eventually I'll cut myself off from this silliness too. I wish you the best! I've felt my habit has needed fired for many many years.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on March 03, 2013:

As of today, I have been tobacco-free for two weeks. Onward and upward!!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 25, 2013:

Thanx Freedom -- strangely enough, despite its popularity, Copenhagen was the one brand of "dip" that I never liked very much... tasted like dirt...haha

FreedomMetal from Somewhere In Time on February 25, 2013:

Good luck! I was never big into dip, but I did in high school some, either Copenhagen or Kodiak. Hopefully it takes this time!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 25, 2013:

Thanks for the comment, Brian.. good to hear from a veteran of the nicotine struggle, like me. :)

Brian L. Marshall on February 25, 2013:

Growing up in WV it seemed the thing to do when you got to be a certain age. I remember friends used to have their HappyDays or Copenhagen, and it seemed almost all kids had that worn circular spot in their jeans back-pocket. I tried like the Dickens to rub snuff. I used Bandits primarily in my attempts but accidentally swallowing that stuff is murder. Murder, I tell ya! So I picked the path of least-resistance. I began smoking. After about 25 years of that I finally quit cold turkey....for about 5 years. Out of the blue, I started smoking Swisher Sweets cigars and fell in love with the habit again. But damn did I stink! Then I started using these new-fangled e-cigarettes, so I still have a nicotine habit, but I don't smell and I can "vape" all day long at work.