Did you know that West Virginians consume 3.5 pounds of smokeless tobacco for every man, woman and child in our state yearly? Among the fifty states, West Virginia is the highest per capita user of smokeless tobacco. Why is that so bad? Smokeless tobacco can kill you.
The first time user of smokeless tobacco, on the average, is ten years old and if they used it on a regular basis, they increase their chances for oral cancer 50 times greater than people who don’t use it. Smokeless tobacco contains a carcinogen called nitrosamine, which changes gum tissue and can cause oral cancer. A carcinogen is any substance that can cause cancer.
The very first change that occurs with the constant use of smokeless tobacco is that the gum and cheek tissue will become slightly white and grooved where the snuff is placed. This painless white patch, called a leukoplakia, is a pre-cancerous lesion and usually a person doesn’t even know that it is there. The cancer, which often starts to grow on the tongue and quickly spread, is fatal in 50% of the 30,000+ people diagnosed with oral cancer each year. Besides the largest risk of oral cancer, smokeless tobacco can do other damage to the mouth.
Smokeless tobacco can cause gum disease and cavities. Since it is so abrasive, the gum tissue will recede away from your roots of your teeth. Once this occurs, the root is sensitive to hot and cold foods and if the gum recedes far enough, the tooth will be lost. Also, tobacco companies add sugar to the tobacco to sweeten the tobacco taste. This sugar surrounds the teeth constantly and can cause serious cavities.
A person can become addicted to smokeless tobacco just as much as smoking cigarettes. Nicotine, the addictive drug in cigarettes, is also found in smokeless tobacco. Right after a person places the tobacco in their mouth, the person’s blood level of nicotine rises five times greater than a person who smokes. Besides addiction, nicotine increases your pulse and blood pressure which is not good for the heart.
Smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to smoking. In February 1987, the federal government passed a law requiring a warning label on all smokeless tobacco products to help the public know of its dangers. They also banned its advertisement on television. The label will say “Warning: This product may cause mouth cancer” or “Warning: This product is not a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes“.
This is a major problem in West Virginia. That is why Dr. Thompson, sent a poster and brochures to fifty local schools on the dangers of smokeless tobacco. He also had the chance to teach others about its harm to over a thousand grade school students during February, March, and April. The Cabell County Library and the County Health Department have literature and audiovisuals on the risks of smokeless tobacco. We encourage you to use them and we hope that you now understand some of the risks of smokeless tobacco, and stop the habit before it snuffs you out.