Whatever you call it — chew, dip, snuff, spit, plug, wad, pinch— it’s not a safe alternative to cigarettes. If you are a father, brother, coach or community leader who uses chewing tobacco, you are setting a risky example for youth in your life. 90 percent of adults who use tobacco started in childhood, and your own tobacco use can be an unspoken endorsement. Think about this; the amount of nicotine in one dip can deliver up to 5 times the nicotine as a single cigarette. Which means, kids get hooked… fast.

The tobacco industry markets the product “smokeless tobacco” as safer than cigarettes because you are not lighting up. But, smokeless tobacco is harmful and is every bit as addictive. In recent years, the tobacco industry has increased promotion of smokeless products. In an effort to make us think these products are safe alternatives, they are flavored like candy and packaged in shiny colorful wrappers; sometimes even placed near their look-a-like candy counterparts. These marketing strategies give the perception tobacco is fun and harmless. In fact, small children have been known to reach for these products at conveniences stores, thinking they are candy products. Currently, 14.5% of high school males in Montana are regular smokeless tobacco users. Smokeless tobacco is a health concern here, in Gallatin County. According to the 2011 Community Health Assessment, local smokeless rates are nearly 3x higher than the national average.

Contrary to some beliefs, smokeless tobacco is not safe.

  • The amount of nicotine absorbed from chewing tobacco is 5 times the amount delivered by a cigarette. Because they deliver higher concentrations of nicotine, chewing tobacco is more habit forming, and likely to leads greater nicotine dependence.
  • There are 28 chemicals known to cause cancer in chew/snuff. These include formaldehyde, arsenic, acetaldehyde, hydrazine, cadmium, polonium, cyanide and lead.
  • Previous studies show that for teen boys who use smokeless, the odds of becoming a smoker are 3x higher.

On top of craving and dependence, our friends and family who use smokeless tobacco drastically increase their risks of oral cancers of the lip, tongue, cheeks, gums, floor and roof of the mouth, throat, larynx and esophagus. It also can cause cancers of the stomach, pancreas, prostate and is linked to increased risk of heart attacks and stroke. Smokeless can also lead to other painful oral problems, such as mouth sores, gum recession, and tooth decay. Don’t forget about bad breath, and permanent discoloration of teeth, YUCK!

Spit tobacco users should check monthly damage to teeth, gums, the tongue and surrounding tissue, which may indicate early warning signs of cancer. As deadly as mouth cancer is, your chances of surviving are much better when found early.

Smokeless tobacco users are challenged to quit their habit for the “Through With Chew Week” Feb. 18-24th. It may be a stepping stone for quitting smokeless tobacco for good.

Smokeless users are also encouraged to call the Montana QUIT Line 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669), or visit quitnowmontana.com. Remember, the Montana Tobacco Quit Line is a proven, evidence based solution to tobacco addiction and is FREE to all Montana citizens. Tobacco users who utilize the Quit Line are 7-10 times more likely to succeed than those who try without support.

Or stop by the Gallatin City-County Health Department and pick up a Quit Spit Kit.