How I Finally Quit Smokeless Tobacco
I Quit (Again and Again and Again and Again)
On February 18, 2013, I made a decision that I'd been putting off for a while: I gave up "dipping" smokeless tobacco. I'd been a slave to this nasty habit since my teenage years, and it was definitely 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 quit before - many times - but as Al Pacino says in The Godfather Part III, "just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in." I'd back-slid into the habit more times than I can remember. So what made this "quit" any different than my dozens of previous attempts? The time had simply come.
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. If you're reading this, 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 giving it up for good. I just want to tell 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.
So how did I end up a hopelessly addicted "dipper" anyway? I certainly don't fit the stereotype of the typical tobacco "chewer." I live in New Jersey, not the Deep South. I can't stand country music, I rarely shop at Wal-Mart, and NASCAR bores me to death. Smokeless tobacco users are a rare breed in my suburban neck o' the woods.
If memory serves, 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 "Chewing tobacco? Really? You gotta be kidding," but I'd seen pro ballplayers spitting gobs of the stuff all over the field on TV for years (Yankees legend Bobby Murcer even recorded a novelty country song called "Skoal Dippin' Man!"), and 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 two later I was on a fishing trip to the Adirondacks 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 being environmentally conscious, 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 -- even if it was kinda gross. 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 on a stack of Bibles 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; I still feel guilty about it to this very day. Sorry, Pop. Let the record show that I don't blame him at all and never did. It was my own stupidity that got me into the habit.)
Red Man tobacco commercial circa 1986
"What're you, stupid?"
If all this sounds shocking, you have to keep in mind that in the early 1980s, chewing tobacco and "dip" was still very under-the-radar when it came to health concerns. It was 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 can't remember a single word ever being said about smokeless or chewing tobacco. Packages of chew and "dip" didn't have health warnings 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 since then, but at the time I took full advantage of the lack of regulations. I'm fairly sure that 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 must've seen it as a lesser evil.
Anyway, 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. (I wonder if they would've had better luck if they'd simply told me, "You're never gonna get a girlfriend if they see you spitting that nasty @#$% all the time!") Instead, I became very skilled at smuggling my 'supply' in and out of the house so Mom wouldn't know that I was still chomping on the Demon Tobacco at a frighteningly prodigious rate. Soon I was off to college and living in the dorms, so subterfuge and secrecy weren't an issue anymore. I could dip to my heart's content! Isn't that GREAT?.... yeah, sure it was. 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."
"I Wish I Knew How to Quit You!"
I first tried to quit "dip" while I was in college. The reason for it is long forgotten, but 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. Whatever the reason, 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! If I'd had a girlfriend at the time, she probably would've kicked me in the nads for being a total douche and left me! I was absolutely unbearable to be around for the week or two that I kept off the stuff, before I finally went "Aw, f**k it, it ain't worth it!"
As I grew older, many more attempts at "quitting" followed. I tried before I got married. I tried after I got married. (Yes, folks, I actually found a wonderful woman who was willing to put up with me despite my disgusting habit and all the spitting that goes with it. God bless her.) 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 be "on the wagon" for a couple of months or more (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 ol' pal, Nick O'Teene. However, as I got older I got more and more concerned about the potential health effects of my constant dipping. My children were also old enough to understand that Daddy's habit was not good for him, and they were very vocal about letting me know it. Thankfully (knock on wood) I still had all my teeth and regular dentist visits have shown nothing out the ordinary goin' on, but I would still panic any time I woke up and felt a sore spot in my mouth, or worry whenever I came down with a sore throat, thinking "Is this... it?" Finally, after flipping out for the umpteenth time over a pain that turned out to be nothing major, I asked myself... "is this sh*t really worth it?" and the obvious answer came back... HELL NO!
I truly believe that it was a big help being up front with my family and friends (and my fellow Hubbers), telling everyone that I'd quit. By getting the word out, I hoped that I'd stay inspired and keep going... because if I backslid after making such a big deal about quitting, then I'd have to admit my failure all over the Internet and look like a schmuck.
UPDATE: February 18, 2018
It's February 18, 2018, and today I am celebrating FIVE YEARS without tobacco. I don't even salivate when I see the smokeless-tobacco display in the convenience store anymore. Crave attacks are mostly a thing of the past, though the occasional grouchiness is still there....but I think that's just an ingrained part of my personality which has nothing to do with tobacco withdrawal. (haha) After all this time 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 one 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. Besides, you look like an idiot with a cheek full of that crap!
© 2013 Keith Abt