• 7/19/2006
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • staff
  • The Indianapolis Star (Indystar.com)

Dr. Stephen J. Jay, chair of the Indiana University School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health, discusses smokeless tobacco products.

Question: What are smokeless tobacco products?

Answer: They come in lots of different forms, such as chewing tobacco, but it’s basically putting tobacco in your mouth and absorbing nicotine and lots of different chemicals into your body instead of inhaling them. You don’t generate any smoke. We used to refer to this as “spit tobacco,” since one of the things you do when you use it is you spit. But some newer products don’t require you to do that.

Q: Are smokeless tobacco products better for you than cigarettes?
A: They’re highly addicting. And the companies don’t have to adhere to any standards or regulations because there are none for these products, so the consumer really has no idea what is in the product.
What you do when you use smokeless tobacco is you just trade your cancer. Instead of getting lung cancer, you get cancers of the lip, tongue, and head and neck cancers, which are just horrible cancers. The disfiguration and surgical procedures needed to treat many of these tumors are just terrible. You have other problems, some of which you also have with smoking, like periodontal disease, dental diseases of gum, including tooth decay and tooth loss.

Q: How about Taboka, the new spitless tobacco that’s being tested in Indianapolis?
A: We have no scientific evidence that I’m aware of that Taboka is any less addicting or less harmful than other smokeless tobacco. It could be less harmful and less addicting. It could be the same or it could be more. We just have no clue.

Our concern from a public health standpoint is that Taboka and products like it will create a whole new group of tobacco users, many of whom otherwise would not have used tobacco at all because they’re concerned about tobacco, and on the flip side we’re concerned that many people who are smoking cigarettes will see these new products as an excuse not to quit.

What tobacco companies do when there’s concern about the safety of their products, they cleverly come up with a new product and market it with a message that the consumer interprets as something that’s better for my health.

Will some people think this is a safer product and instead of smoking choose this? Will people who would otherwise quit using tobacco altogether shift to this kind of product? None of these important questions regarding the health of the public has been answered.

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