Teen Use of Smokeless Tobacco on the Rise
Fourteen-year-old "Pete" (not his real name) says he started using smokeless tobacco last year.
"I didnâ€™t really like the taste, I just liked the buzz," he says.
The "buzz" comes from large amounts of nicotine that are in every pinch of chew, nearly three times the nicotine contained in an average cigarette. Thatâ€™s bad enough, says Sue Dodd, from the National Spit Tobacco Education Program, but smokeless tobacco also contains approximately 48 dangerous carcinogens.
"You will find lead, you find cyanide, formaldehyde, and the number one cancer causing agents, nitrosamines."
Dodd says the trend is clear: as fewer kids smoke cigarettes, more than ever, theyâ€™re trying smokeless tobacco, perhaps as a replacement.
"In the last 20 years," she says, "thereâ€™s been about a 300 percent increase in the use of spit tobacco with the younger population."
Sixteen-year-old Corey calls it "kind of an alternative to smoking because I can get away with it at school."
Unfortunately, many kids seem to regard it as a "safe" alternative to smoking. Dodd says they couldnâ€™t be more mistaken. "The regular spit tobacco user has a 50 times greater chance of developing oral cancer than the non-user," she explains.
But for a typical teenager, like Joshua, who is18, those threats to his health wonâ€™t put a dent in his "dipping."
"You donâ€™t think about it while youâ€™re doing it, because I look at it this way, youâ€™re gonna die sometime."
Experts agree that kids are not easily swayed by talk of potential health problems in the future. Instead, they suggest using graphic images that show the ravages of cancer.
For some health educators, that means a hands-on display of a rubbery â€˜Mr. Gross Mouthâ€™ - itâ€™s a model of the mouth that shows the effects of smokeless tobacco, including the white lesions, or leukoplakia, that are found in 60% of all regular spit tobacco users.
"You can not get too gross or too graphic for middle school kids," says Dodd.
For that reason, representatives who talk to groups of young kids also bring a supply of color photographs, showing the grisly results of mouth cancer.
13-year-old Bryce, who sat through one of these classes, says heâ€™s tried spit tobacco once, but probably never again, "You do it too much, youâ€™ll mess up your mouth, and your throat."
What Is Smokeless Tobacco?
There are two forms of smokeless tobacco: chewing tobacco and snuff. Chewing tobacco is usually sold as leaf tobacco (packed in a pouch) or plug tobacco (in brick form) that is put between the cheek and gum. Users keep chewing tobacco in their mouths for several hours to get a continuous buzz from the nicotine in the tobacco. Snuff is a powdered tobacco (usually sold in cans) that is put between the lower lip and gum. Just a pinch is all that is needed to nicotine, which is then swiftly absorbed into the bloodstream, resulting in a quick high. Sound harmless, right? Keep reading...
What Is In Smokeless Tobacco?
Chemicals. Keep in mind that smokeless tobacco contains many chemicals that can be harmful to your health. Here are a few of the ingredients found in smokeless tobacco:
Nicotine (addictive drug)
Polonium 210 (nuclear waste)
Cadmium (used in car batteries)
Formaldehyde (embalming fluid)
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics
Smokeless (Spit) Tobacco and Kids
14.2 percent of U.S. high school boys (grades 9-12) are current (past 30 days) smokeless tobacco users. Less than two percent of high school girls are smokeless users.
18.8 percent of Caucasian high-school boys are current smokeless tobacco users.
In some states, smokeless tobacco use among high school males is particularly high - Montana (29.8%), Wyoming (28.8%), and West Virginia (28.6%).
Among high school seniors who have ever used smokeless tobacco, almost three-fourths began by the ninth grade.
Since 1970, smokeless tobacco has gone from a product used primarily by older men to one for which young men comprise the largest portion of the market. In 1970, males 65 and older (12.7%) were almost six times as likely as those ages 18-24 (2.2%) to use smokeless (tobacco) regularly. By 1991, however, young males (8.4%) were 50 percent more likely than the oldest ones (5.6%) to be regular smokeless users.
A similar pattern is evident for moist snuff, the most popular type of smokeless tobacco. Between 1970 and 1991, the regular use of moist snuff by 18-24 year old males increased almost ten-fold - from less than one percent to 6.2 percent. Conversely, use among males 65 and older decreased by almost half - from 4 percent to 2.2 percent.
Source: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
Health Effects of Smokeless Tobacco?
Some people believe that using smokeless tobacco is a safe alternative to smoking. This is not true. Smokeless tobacco can have the following bad effects on your health:
Cancer of the mouth and pharynx
Addiction to nicotine
Leukoplakia (white sores in the mouth that can lead to cancer)
Gum recession, or peeling back of gums
Bone loss around the teeth
Abrasion of teeth
Source: American Cancer Society
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids - http://www.tobaccofreekids.org
National Cancer Institute: Tobacco Control Research Branch - http://dccps.nci.nih.gov/tcrb
American Cancer Society - http://www.cancer.org
American Academy of Pediatrics - http://www.aap.org