The National Cancer Society reports that over 12 million people use some form of smokeless tobacco. The largest increase over the last decade has been among the 8-17 age group. The tobacco industry has taken advantage of this increase by exploiting the image that athletes have on our young athletes and children. They are sponsoring sporting events such as professional rodeos, women’s tennis, monster truck rallies, and car racing events, not to mention the association of baseball players with smokeless tobacco.
Precancerous Lesion & Cancerous Lesion
The health consequences of smokeless tobacco are:
- Dental caries and periodontal (gum) effects.
- Oral cavity soft tissue alterations.
- Leucoplakia (White potentially pre-cancerous patches in the mouth).
- Cancer of the oral pharynx and oral cavity.
- Addiction from the nicotine.
- Hemodynamic (blood) alterations due to the sugar content leading to increased blood sugar levels.
The addictive properties of nicotine has been recorded throughout the medical/dental literature. Also, the association of smokeless tobacco and cancer is well documented. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that tobacco snuff contains the organic carcinogen nitrosonornicotine (NNN) which readily produces malignant tumors of the trachea, esophagus, liver, and oral cavity. Research has shown that 15%-20% of all adolescent men use smokeless tobacco. About half have precancerous lesions in their mouth and the chances of getting oral cancer is 400% greater than nonusers.
According to a study by Edwards, Glover, and Schroeder on the effects of smokeless tobacco on heart rate and neuromuscular reactivity in athletes in 1987, there is no evidence that smokeless tobacco gives athletes a competitive edge in reaction time, movement time, and total response. In fact they showed a reduction in overall stamina due to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.
Health professionals are actively trying to help patients realize that smokeless tobacco is NOT a safe alternative to smoking. Nicotine addiction treatment is not an easy proposition. One method suggested is the use of a placebo, or oral substitute, such as chewing gum. However this does not simulate the texture, feel, and taste of smokeless tobacco. Mint SnuffTM was developed for just this purpose.
Mint SnuffTM is simply mint leaves packaged in small round tins designed to mimic snuff cans. The product contains no sugar and no nicotine and effectively imitates smokeless tobacco. This may prove to be successful in cessation programs along with nicotine gum and transdermal patches.
Mint SnuffTM should not be offered to youth who do not already chew. For more information call 1-800-EAT-MINT.
Another source of help is the California Tobacco Chewer’s helpline. This is a free service run through the University of California, San Diego Cancer Center that helps chewers quit and quit for good. For more information, referrals, or one on one telephone counseling call 1-800-844-CHEW.
Remember, chew tobacco is not a safe alternative to smoking. One can of chew tobacco has three times more cancer-causing chemicals than one pack of cigarettes.