What’s chew tobacco?

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Chewing tobacco, popular among Native Americans and early settlers, is a coarsely shredded and moistened form of tobacco sold loose or in small squares. It remains popular among sports figures and in rural parts of the US. There are several types, including loose leaf, plug, twist, bits, and chunks. While tobacco products have declined in popularity due to health concerns, chewing tobacco remains profitable.

Chewing tobacco is a form of tobacco product that is often referred to as smokeless. Instead of chopping 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 known as plugs.
The practice of chewing tobacco leaves can be traced back to the Native Americans of both North and South America. The leaves were usually torn into manageable sections and alternately chewed or held between the teeth and cheek. Early settlers quickly adopted the practice, especially in what would become the United States. In the 19th century, this form of tobacco was so popular that spittoons were a common sight in many public buildings as well as courtrooms and all facilities where politicians met.

By the early 20th century, cigarettes had overtaken chewing tobacco in many quarters. However, the product has enjoyed continued popularity among sports figures. To this day, the practice is associated with baseball players. In the form of plugs and shredded loose tobacco, the product remains a favorite in many rural parts of the United States, especially in the Deep South.

There are several types of tobacco specially prepared for chewing. Loose leaf and plug-in tobacco are by far the longest lasting forms. The bulk product consists of moistened leaves packaged in a plain foil-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 bag’s contents and places the tobacco in their mouth. Chewing the leaves releases the flavor as well as providing a large dose of nicotine.

Plug tobacco is processed tobacco leaves that are sweetened and pressed into sheets. The sheets are then cut into squares or dowels and individually wrapped. Considered a very convenient way to carry tobacco, the consumer simply bites into a section of the plug to enjoy a quick chew.

Tobacco twists and tobacco bits are less common forms. The twist product is simply leaves twisted into long strands similar to those of a rope. The ends are tied to hold the twist. While the primary form of chewing tobacco during the 19th century, the product does not pack the moisture content or added sweetening found with plug or loose leaf tobacco products.

Chunks of tobacco are small, rolled-up sections of leaf that are moistened, sweetened, and formed into bite-sized pieces. Usually sold in a plain jar, the consumer simply removes a piece from the jar and chews the product similar to chewing gum. While not widely available, this type of tobacco has a staunch group of supporters who prefer it over other options.
As the general public has become aware of the dangers of tobacco use, many products made with the plant have declined in popularity. Along with chewing tobacco, products such as snuff, cigarettes and cigars have become less acceptable in public places. While not enjoying the popularity of yesteryear, this shape remains a profitable business and is likely to remain so for many years to come.

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