Smokeless Tobacco: Ick!

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SmokelessTobaccoA new study out today finds that increasing numbers of teen boys are using smokeless tobacco products, such as snuff and chewing tobacco. According to a report by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, between 2002 and 2007, there was a 30% increase in the number of boys ages 12-17 who admitted to using smokeless tobacco products. Teen boys in the South and Midwest, particularly in rural areas, were especially likely to have used smokeless tobacco products.

Unfortunately, many teen boys think smokeless tobacco is somehow safe — or at least safer — than cigarettes. But nothing could be further from the truth. Check out these myths (from www.ucanquit2.org):

  • MYTH: Smokeless tobacco products are a safe alternative to tobacco smoking with none of the risk for serious illness.
  • FACT: Smokeless does not equal harmless. The list of serious illnesses connected to any form of smokeless tobacco is almost too long to print, but it does include mouth cancer, cancer of the pancreas, tooth loss, and bone loss around the roots of teeth.
  • MYTH: When you chew tobacco you spit the nicotine, and all the other poisons, out with the chew.
  • FACT: When chewers place snuff or smokeless in their mouth, cheek, or lip, they give nicotine a free pass to do its nasty thing. A high dose of nicotine enters the bloodstream from the mouth and is then carried throughout the body. From there it takes its toll on many parts of the body, including the heart and blood vessels, hormones, metabolism, and brain. The amount of nicotine absorbed from a can of spit tobacco is equal to the amount delivered by three to four packs of cigarettes. Nicotine is absorbed more slowly from smokeless tobacco than from cigarettes, but more nicotine per dose is absorbed from smokeless tobacco than from cigarettes. Also, the nicotine stays in the bloodstream for a longer time.
  • MYTH: A little dip or chew won’t hurt you.
  • FACT: Even a little smokeless tobacco has enough nicotine in it to get you addicted if you keep using it. Don’t be fooled by thinking you can use just a little and not get addicted. Smokeless tobacco contains nicotine, the same drug that makes cigarettes addictive. If you hold an average size dip or chew in your mouth for 30 minutes, you get as much nicotine as you do from about three cigarettes. It is so addicting that some smokeless tobacco users sleep with it in their mouths so they keep getting nicotine through the night.
  • MYTH: Good gum care will offset the harmful effects of dip or chew.
  • FACT: There is simply no evidence that there is anything you can do with floss, toothbrushes, mouthwash, or toothpaste to undo the toll you take on your teeth and gums when you make the decision to dip or chew. Brush and floss as much as you want, but there’s no way it will undo the harm of smokeless tobacco.

Unfortunately, these facts alone may do little to dissuade your teen from using smokeless tobacco, since teen boys are, by nature, risk-takers. Add in the fact that boys in groups tend to do things they wouldn’t do alone (as Dr. Leonard Sax writes, “A boy is much more likely to do something dangerous and stupid when he’s in a group of boys than when he’s by himself.”), and your best bet is a) modeling healthy behavior and b) being aware of what your son and his friends are doing.

If that’s not enough, send him over to www.trashyourcan.org. There are some graphic pictures, but some stories are best told in the first person.

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