Use of smokeless tobacco among youth on the rise
Role models can play a significant part in the lives of adolescents. However, when it comes to young athletes, sometimes role models can be hazardous to their health.
Take our professional baseball players. Many of them continue to regularly use smokeless tobacco. Whether they realize it or not, they are sending a disparaging message to teens and pre-teens alike. Smokeless tobacco is not only an addictive drug but a potential killer.
"The typical smokeless tobacco user is a young white male between the ages of 16 and 30 years, living in either rural or suburban areas," according to the National Cancer Institute. A nationwide survey of students recently confirmed that 10.8 percent of all high school-aged boys regularly use smokeless tobacco. If that statistic wasn't bad enough, you will be amazed to know that 1.4 percent of all high school-aged girls use it too.
"The use of tobacco products (like smokeless tobacco) has become an entrenched part of the teenage culture today," says University of Buffalo researcher M.J. Melnick.
Adolescents use smokeless tobacco because it is a stimulant. It imparts a nicotine boost allowing a young athlete to endure prolonged physical exertion. But most use it, quite honestly, because of peer pressure.
How many of our young Coachella Valley athletes are using smokeless tobacco? If they fall within the national average, as I would assume they do, more than just a few.
A nasty habit
Smokeless tobacco comes in two types - snuff or chew. Snuff is inhaled, and gives the user an almost immediate rush of energy. Chew, on the other hand, is molded into a small wad and placed inside the cheek; the release of nicotine is gradual, providing a time-released dose.
In either form, it is brutally harmful to the tissues with which it comes in contact. Smokeless tobacco contains 28 cancer-causing chemicals.
The ingested juices can cause any number of life-threatening conditions. Smokeless tobacco has been linked directly to cancer of the mouth, sinus cavity, esophagus, digestive tract and urinary tract, to name just a few areas.
There are a number of steps we must take in order to minimize the risks of smokeless tobacco to our young population here in the valley:
If parents suspect their offspring is using the drug, the child must have periodic mouth examinations by a trained health care professional, most likely a dentist.
The voting public must continue to lobby state legislators to enact laws restricting tobacco manufacturers from continuing to market tobacco products to young people. The Federal Trade Commission in 1986 passed a law mandating the use of warning labels on all smokeless tobacco canisters. That's a good start, but more pressure is needed.
We must encourage local high school athletic directors, as well as coaches, to educate athletes on the health risks of all tobacco products if they aren't already doing it. It's a proven fact that most smokeless tobacco users will become smokers later in life.
There are many ways in which a smokeless tobacco addiction may be overcome.
The nicotine patch has been somewhat helpful in assisting the addicted adolescent overcome his/her dependence on smokeless tobacco. There is also a device called the QuitKey. This is a small, digitally calibrated gadget that monitors an individual's usage of tobacco. Theoretically, this device is supposed to help the smokeless tobacco user reduce incrementally the amount of snuff or chew introduced into the body.
A third source of help is through a NCI-sponsored tobacco-cessation program known as "Enough Snuff." This program provides a 20-minute video, as well as a 60-page manual, to the participant. The smokeless tobacco users educate themselves in hopes of overcoming their tobacco dependence.
There is also a Web site (www.cdc.gov/tobacco/edu mathtm), sponsored by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, that provides assistance to people needing help with their tobacco addiction.
Snuff it out
The severity of the smokeless tobacco problem in this nation is overwhelming when you consider the ages of those currently using the drug. Its usage must stop, and stop immediately before major life-threatening consequences ensue.
Only through proper education of our teens and pre-teens will this happen. We need to step up to the plate and help our future generations realize the colossal risks associated with not only the use of smokeless tobacco, but all tobacco products. Let's knock this problem out of the ballpark once and for all.
Reach William R. Chase, a retired dentist residing in Cathedral City: firstname.lastname@example.org