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The Dangers of Nicotine Use

Smoke or no smoke, there are still health risks.

Over the years, you've probably heard about the risks of smoking. They've been well published and the subject of intense public service announcements. As a result, smoking rates reached an all-time low in 2019.

However, 1 in 5 adults still use some form of tobacco. And other methods of nicotine use still cause health complications, including electronic nicotine delivery systems. Tobacco use not only affects your oral health, but many other aspects of your health as well.

Read below to learn more about the health risks of smoking, smokeless tobacco and nicotine use.

How smoking affects your health

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. and includes the use of cigarettes, cigars, pipes and hookahs. The best thing you can do to reduce the risk of smoking-related diseases is to quit smoking. It can feel challenging since tobacco products contain nicotine, a highly addictive chemical.

Many individuals who are looking to quit often seek potential alternatives, such as smokeless tobacco and electronic nicotine delivery systems. But are these products really safe alternatives? How do they affect oral health?

Smokeless tobacco

Smokeless tobacco products are tobacco products that aren't delivered by smoke. Instead, tobacco may be chewed, sucked, snorted or swallowed.

These products still contain nicotine, the same highly addictive chemical found in smoking tobacco, plus dozens of others that have been linked to cancer. In fact, research shows that individuals who use smokeless tobacco may absorb just as much or more nicotine into their bodies as individuals who smoke cigarettes.


Electronic nicotine devices are another way of consuming nicotine without tobacco. Often called 'vapes' or 'e-cigarettes', these devices have exploded in popularity in recent years. They work by producing an aerosol by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals that help produce the aerosol. Contrary to popular belief, the aerosol is not made of water vapor.

Individuals who smoke may see e-cigs and other smokeless tobacco products as a 'safer' alternative to smoking. Individuals who have never smoked may also decide to use these products for the same reasons.

Like smoking, vaping is addictive and can cause your body to absorb dangerous chemicals. The particles within the aerosol also may cause inflammation and irritation within your lungs. This can lead to lung damage, such as scarring and narrowing of the tubes that bring in air. Since these devices are relatively new, researchers are still studying how vaping affects the body long-term.

Talk to your dentist

Smoking, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes share many of the same risks to your oral health and overall health, including (but not limited to):

  • Nicotine addiction
  • Cancer
  • Oral diseases
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke

When visiting the dentist, patients are generally asked to update their medical and dental history. Questions about the use of tobacco and electronic cigarettes/vaping are commonly included on these forms.

Even if you've tried quitting before, it's never too late. Talk to your dentist about your tobacco use - they may be able to help. Your dentist may be able to suggest products or prescribe medications that can help calm nicotine cravings, such as nicotine gum and patches.

It's also a good idea to check if your health care plan includes tobacco cessation coverage. Blue Cross and Blue Shield Federal Employee Program members have access to the Tobacco Cessation Program, which offers tools and resources to help them quit for good.* This program includes no-cost tobacco cessation drugs, plus it covers nicotine dependencies from e-cigarettes.

*The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Federal Employee Program and Blue Cross Blue Shield FEP Dental are separate, independently operated plans with benefits outlined in each of their respective brochures.