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Question : My boyfriend has been chewing tobacco regularly and drinking alcohol occasionally since he was 18 years old. He's 42 now and coughs a few times a day. Could the nicotine be the cause of the cough? Can a person who chews tobacco get a "smoker's cough?"
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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October 16, 2012
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A:

Chewing tobacco may be a harmful and unpleasant habit. But it’s unlikely to be causing your boyfriend’s cough.

A “smoker’s cough” develops when the lungs are persistently irritated by cigarette smoke. In medical lingo, this is called chronic bronchitis. This is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Chewing tobacco, snuff and other forms of smokeless tobacco don’t get into the lungs. So they don’t appear to cause lung diseases such as emphysema or lung cancer. But smokeless tobacco does have its health risks:

  • It releases high levels of nicotine. Nicotine is highly addictive.
  • It releases toxic chemicals into the mouth. This increases the risk of developing cancer in the mouth, tongue and throat. When combined with alcohol, the risk is even greater.

My advice: He should stop chewing tobacco immediately. He may need nicotine replacement to help him quit. He can also ask his doctor for prescription medicine to help reduce nicotine craving and withdrawal symptoms.

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