Background: Although smokeless tobacco (ST) use has played a major role in the low smoking prevalence among Swedish men, there is little information at the population level about ST as a smoking cessation aid in the U.S.
Methods: We used the 2000 National Health Interview Survey to derive population estimates for the number of smokers who had tried twelve methods in their most recent quit attempt, and for the numbers and proportions who were former or current smokers at the time of the survey.
Results: An estimated 359,000 men switched to smokeless tobacco in their most recent quit attempt. This method had the highest proportion of successes among those attempting it (73%), representing 261,000 successful quitters (switchers). In comparison, the nicotine patch was used by an estimated 2.9 million men in their most recent quit attempt, and almost one million (35%) were former smokers at the time of the survey. Of the 964,000 men using nicotine gum, about 323,000 (34%) became former smokers. Of the 98,000 men who used the nicotine inhaler, 27,000 quit successfully (28%). None of the estimated 14,000 men who tried the nicotine nasal spray became former smokers. Forty-two percent of switchers also reported quitting smoking all at once, which was higher than among former smokers who used medications (8-19%). Although 40% of switchers quit smoking less than 5 years before the survey, 21% quit over 20 years earlier. Forty-six percent of switchers were current ST users at the time of the survey.
Conclusion: Switching to ST compares very favorably with pharmaceutical nicotine as a quit-smoking aid among American men, despite the fact that few smokers know that the switch provides almost all of the health benefits of complete tobacco abstinence. The results of this study show that tobacco harm reduction is a viable cessation option for American smokers.