Chewing tobacco is a form of tobacco product that is often referred to as smokeless. Rather than mincing tobacco leaves for use in cigars or cigarettes, it is coarsely shredded and often moistened. This tobacco is typically sold loose in a packet or formed into small squares that are known as plugs.
The practice of chewing tobacco leaves can be traced back to Native Americans in both North and South America. The leaves were usually torn into manageable sections and alternately chewed or held between the teeth and the cheek. Early colonists quickly adopted the practice, especially in what would become the United States. By the 19th century, this form of tobacco was so popular that spittoons were common sights in many public buildings as well as courtrooms and any facilities where politicians gathered.
By the early 20th century, cigarettes had overtaken chewing tobacco in many circles. Still, the product enjoyed continued popularity among sports figures. To this day, the practice is associated with baseball players. In the form of plugs and loose shredded tobacco, the product remains a favorite in many rural sections of the United States, especially in the Deep South.
There are several types of tobacco that are prepared specifically for chewing. Loose leaf and plug tobacco are by far the most enduring forms. The loose leaf product consists of moistened leaves that are packaged in a simple aluminum lined pouch. A small amount of sweetener is added to the shredded leaves as a flavor enhancer. To enjoy the tobacco, the consumer simply removes a small portion of the contents of the pouch and places the tobacco in the mouth. Chewing the leaves releases the flavor as well as providing an ample dose of nicotine.
Plug tobacco is processed tobacco leaves that are sweetened and pressed into sheets. The sheets are then cut into squares or plugs and individually wrapped. Considered a very convenient way to carry tobacco, the consumer simply bites off a section of the plug in order to enjoy a quick chew.
Twist tobacco and tobacco bits are less common forms. The twist product is simply leaves that are woven into long strands similar to those of a rope. The ends are tied off in order to maintain the twist. While the primary form of chewing tobacco during the 19th century, the product does not pack the moisture content or the added sweetening found with plugs or loose leaf tobacco products.
The tobacco bits are small rolled sections of leaves that are moistened, sweetened, and formed into bite size pieces. Usually sold in a simple tin, the consumer simply removes one piece from the tin and chews the product in a manner similar to chewing gum. While not widely available, this type of tobacco does have a loyal group of supporters who prefer it over other options.
As the general public has become aware of the dangers of tobacco usage, many products made with the plant have decreased in popularity. Along with chewing tobacco, products like snuff, cigarettes, and cigars have become less acceptable in public places. While not enjoying the popularity of days past, this form remains a profitable business and is likely to remain so for many years to come.