Studies show smokeless tobacco just as dangerous

Contrary to popular belief, chewing tobacco is not a healthier alternative to smoking.

A recent study found that users of chewing tobacco are exposed to more cancer-causing substances than a smoker.

“We’ve known for some time that chewing tobacco causes cancer,” said Director/ Physician-in-Chief of Student Health Services Dr. Glenn Egelman. “It just depends on how you quantify the danger.”

Some students at the University are surprised by these findings.

“It does surprise me a little bit,” said student Scott Penn. “Especially since all you see are advertisements trying to prevent people from smoking.”

Penn is speaking of the “Truth” advertisements that are seen on television screens everywhere.

Carrie Dowling, a certified tobacco treatment specialist at the Wellness Connection, feels people are more familiar with cigarettes.

“People are more experienced with cigarette smoke as being more dangerous,” Dowling said.

Researchers found a higher concentration of a substance called NNK, one of the prime carcinogens in tobacco, in the urine of chewing tobacco users. This suggests that users of smokeless tobacco are at a greater risk of developing cancer of the lung, pancreas, liver and nasal mucosa.

However, the findings do not mean cigarettes are the safer form of tobacco. Cigarette smoke has carcinogens that are not present in chewing tobacco.

“The direct exposure of smokeless tobacco in a person’s mouth compared to cigarette smoke in the lungs,” Dowling said. “It’s not which one is better or worse, they’re just different.”

Many people may quit smoking but pick up chewing tobacco to continue feeding their nicotine craving.

According to the American Lung Association (ALA), smokeless tobacco has 28 cancer causing agents and users are at a higher risk of developing oral cancer compared to cigarette smokers.

The ALA states that smokeless tobacco gained in popularity in the 1970s and ’80s when advertising increased and people saw smokeless tobacco as a safe alternative.

But smokeless tobacco can get into your bloodstream faster than cigarette smoke.

“You’re putting that substance right into your mouth,” Dowling said.

In fact, according to the ALA, holding one pinch of smokeless tobacco in your mouth for 30 minutes delivers as much nicotine as three to four cigarettes.

Studies performed by the ALA state that 830 young people between the ages of 11-19 try smokeless tobacco daily. The studies go on to say 7 percent of high school students are regular users of smokeless tobacco as well as 3 percent of middle school students.

States such as Ohio and others in this region are more likely to have tobacco users then other areas.

The ALA says people who are employed in blue collar occupations or service-related jobs and are unemployed show a higher rate of usage of smokeless tobacco.

The slowing economy and the blue collar jobs that are present in the Midwestern states help fuel the higher rate of smokeless tobacco users in this region.

Perhaps a reason young people try tobacco products is because they see sports figures or other public figures promoting tobacco.

“I started to use smokeless tobacco in high school when I started to play baseball,” said student Matt O’Shea.

Major League Baseball and smokeless tobacco has become almost synonymous with one another. Notable baseball figures who have used tobacco are Boston Red Sox manager and World Series Champion Terry Francona and perhaps most famously outfielder Bill Tuttle, who played in the 1950s and ’60s.

Recently, however, baseball has been trying to clean up their image.

The MLB requires its players to not carry a tin of tobacco in their back pockets as to not make an impression on children watching the games. They even went as far to ban smokeless tobacco from the 1997 All-Star game.

Terry Francona even spent the entire 2007 baseball season committing himself to quit his tobacco use.

If you would like quit your dependence on tobacco and learn more about the effects of tobacco you can visit the American Lung Association’s Web site at www.lungusa.org.

Or you can visit Carrie Dowling at the Wellness Connection here on campus or call her at (419) 372-9355.

“It’s worth quitting,” Dowling said. “It is one of the biggest health decisions you can make in your life.”