• 12/26/2006
  • Pennsylvania, USA
  • Dr. Howard R. Tolchinksky
  • www.centredaily.com

As public smoking bans gain momentum throughout Pennsylvania, there is a growing concern within the health care community that smokers may be tempted to switch to smokeless tobacco products in situations where they are barred from lighting up.

Big tobacco is paying attention. The industry is promoting new flavored chew and spit-free products that they market as being more convenient and socially acceptable than smoking or using traditional chew. These products repackage tobacco into a more socially acceptable but equally addictive nicotine delivery system.

Increased public awareness of the hazards of smoking and smoking bans are cutting into the profits of leading cigarette manufacturers, which may be behind the industry’s increased focus on smokeless products. The impact is already being felt: smokeless tobacco sales in the United States topped $3 billion last year, while the number of cigarettes sold fell to the lowest level in more than 50 years.

Many dentists and physicians are troubled by the industry’s new emphasis on smokeless tobacco. Some advertising may leave the impression that smokeless tobacco is somehow safer than smoking, or is a smart alternative for people who are trying to quit smoking. Sadly, neither is true.

The amount of nicotine absorbed by the body from smokeless tobacco is three to four times higher than the amount delivered by a cigarette. A person who uses eight to 10 dips or chews a day ingests the same amount of nicotine as a heavy smoker who has 30 to 40 cigarettes a day. Therefore, smokeless tobacco users become just as easily addicted to nicotine as smokers and quitting smokeless tobacco can be more difficult than giving up cigarettes.

As a practicing dentist since 1973 and serving since 2004 as the Pennsylvania State Dentist, I firmly believe that using any type of tobacco product will hurt you. Smokeless tobacco carries with it a multitude of health risks that are equally as damaging and deadly as those caused by smoking. You might not get lung cancer using chew, but other types of cancer are still a serious risk.

Oral cancer and other cancers that attack your mouth, throat and digestive system are disfiguring and deadly. Chewing tobacco contains 28 known carcinogens. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year, about 30,000 Americans learn they have mouth and throat cancer, and nearly 8,000 Americans die of these diseases. Only about half of people with diagnosed mouth or throat cancer survive more than five years.

The short-term side effects of smokeless tobacco use can include cracked, bleeding and receding gums, as well as eroded tooth enamel, which can increase your risk of cavities. Since chewing tobacco contains high amounts of sugar, prolonged use can cause tooth decay and loss. The results of using chew tobacco can also include mouth sores, tooth abrasion and erosion, increased tooth decay, tooth discoloration, bad breath and – of course – nicotine dependence.

The best advice to tobacco users, whether they smoke or chew, is to quit. The commonwealth offers resources to assist those who want to quit or want advice on how to educate their children on the health risks so they never start. Pennsylvania’s toll-free quit line, (800) QUIT-NOW, is staffed around the clock with professional counselors. The state also offers helpful tips to quit at www.state.pa.us, keyword: health.

If you are not using a tobacco product, I encourage you to not fall victim to the efforts by big tobacco companies to convince consumers that there is any safe form of tobacco product. It does not exist.

Dr. Howard R. Tolchinsky is the Pennsylvania State Dentist.

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