NORMAN — Smokeless tobacco is not a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco includes; chewing tobacco, oral tobacco, spit tobacco, dip, chew, and snuff/snus. Smokeless tobacco causes oral cancer, esophageal cancer, and pancreatic cancer. In fact, at least 28 chemicals in smokeless tobacco have been found to cause cancer. In addition, smokeless tobacco use may also cause heart disease, gum disease, and oral lesions other than cancer. All tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco, contain nicotine, which is highly addictive.
In an effort to gain future customers and keep current tobacco users addicted in spite of new smoke-free laws, the tobacco industry has created and started marketing new types of smokeless tobacco products. This poses a potential threat to public health as the healthiest option is to not use tobacco at all. Smokeless tobacco manufacturers are marketing flavored smokeless tobacco products which come in cleverly designed packaging which can mimic candy or gum products. The packages are small and easily concealable. This marketing tactic appeals to young people and adults alike, making a dangerous product look harmless or fun. A 2005 American Legacy Foundation and National Cancer Institute study noted, “Tobacco companies are using candy-like flavors and high tech delivery devices to turn a blowtorch into a flavored popsicle, misleading millions of youngsters to try a deadly product.”
Current smokeless tobacco usage estimates among male Oklahoma high school students are at 18.4% while the nationwide estimate is only at 12.8%. Because of Oklahoma’s high smokeless tobacco rates it is critical that outreach and education strategies address the health risks of all tobacco products with a special emphasis on smokeless tobacco. Because all tobacco products are addictive, harmful, and cause cancer, the use of all of these products should be strongly discouraged. There is no safe level of any type of tobacco use. The best step a current tobacco user can take for their health is to quit altogether, not switch to an alternative tobacco product. Vulnerable youth need guidance from the community to make the right choices and not be seduced by tobacco industry’s marketing tactics.
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