So, Why Don’t We Talk About Chewing Tobacco? Part 1

It’s called smokeless tobacco because smoking is bad. But chewing’s OK.  We chew gum; we chew our food; maybe, we even our fingernails.

Chew, dip, snuff, it’s out there but we seldom talk about it. Compared to cigarette smoking there really isn’t a lot of information available about smokeless tobacco.  As a society we focus on Smoking Tobacco and Stop Smoking Tobacco Programs and not so much on smokeless tobacco or programs to help people stop chewing tobacco.

Chew Cover copy

Here are some sobering facts about chew from the Surgeon General and the American Cancer Society:

  • The 12th  Report on Carcinogens (ROC), (2011) indicates an estimated 10 million users of smokeless tobacco in the U.S., and of that number approximately 3 million users are under the age of 21.
  • The National Cancer Institute’s fact sheet, “Smokeless Tobacco and Cancer” states there are at least 28 chemicals in smokeless tobacco that are known to cause cancer.
  • Long term snuff users may be 50 percent more at risk for cancer of the cheek and gums.
  • Nicotine is just as addictive as heroin and cocaine, and teens are more sensitive to nicotine and can become dependent on it quicker than adults. Surgeon General 2012 Report.
  • 13.4% of high school boys (and 2.3% of girls) are current users of smokeless products; among high school seniors who ever used smokeless tobacco products, almost 75% began by the 9th grade.
  • Of female smokeless tobacco users, some 42% also smoke.

It doesn’t help that state-enforced smoking bans influence the use of smokeless tobacco. In response to these bans, tobacco companies have been marketing smokeless tobacco products more heavily. They are advertising smokeless tobacco products as alternatives to cigarettes in places where smoking is not allowed.

Most people who want to chuck the chew think it’s totally disgusting (along with most of the general public).  But there aren’t a lot of resources explaining what smokeless tobacco does to your body and why it’s so darn difficult to stop the habit. Not only does it make your teeth yellow (worse than cigarettes), it messes up your gums and your smile and it’s the leading cause of oral cancer. Plus, there’s always this hunk of shredded crap in your mouth.

Dipper’s have to have someplace to spit that liquid yuck, swallowing is a “no no” besides, it can make a person very sick.  Sometimes they spit on the sidewalk or the street, maybe the toilet, or the back yard. Could be that they spit over the fence into the neighbor’s yard to hit that dog that just won’t shut up.  Some chewers pride themselves at the distance they can spit.

I remember, when I was about seven, knowing Willis Lee, a loose acquaintance of my father’s.  Dad smoked three packs of Tareyton’s a day, but he didn’t chew tobacco.  Willis and his family lived in a small house off a county road in Central Washington. I played with his son Brett, my same age, once in a while and sometimes at their home. There was a hole in the floor in the living room.  Willis would sit in his chair, watch TV and spit chew into that hole. He didn’t always hit the hole, and yes, it was gross.  Then there is the can.

My brother used an old Coke can as his portable spittoon.  He carried it with him everywhere but instead of taking a sip, he was spitting.  I recall one really gross episode when I watched someone accidentally pick up the wrong can and take a swig thinking it was a refreshing Coke but got a mouth full of my brother’s tobacco leavings.

Like cigarettes, there’s a lot of stuff in that package besides tobacco.  Let me give you a partial list and maybe in your mind you can justify these ingredients.  I know I can’t.

  1. Cadmium: NiCad batteries, pigments, solution stabilizers; toxic to humans
  2. Formaldehyde: embalming fluid, sterilizer, a carcinogen
  3. Lead: batteries, fuel additive, toxic to humans
  4. N-Nitrosamines: cleaning solvent, reacts violently with water (that’s nice) cancer-causing chemical
  5. Polonium 210: used in anti-static devices, highly radioactive
  6. Acetaldehyde: use in making poly vinyl, a carcinogen
  7. Uranium 235: used in nuclear power stations and nuclear weapons
  8. Fiberglass and Sand: abrasives
  9. Nicotine: Insecticide, highly toxic (three times more poisonous than strychnine) 

So, all this stuff is in chewing tobacco and yet people still put it in their mouths. Why? And why can’t they easily stop?

I’ll answer that question next week.

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