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Spit Tobacco (Dip, Chew, Snuff, Smokeless)

What's the Problem?

Spit tobacco can cause cancer. It is not a safe alternative to smoking. Spit tobacco contains nicotine, which is highly addictive. Whether the tobacco is chewed, absorbed through the cheeks and gums, or through other skin tissue, within about 20 minutes the nicotine can cause increased heart (pulse) rate and blood pressure, and decreased appetite, putting unnecessary stress on the heart. Nicotine can also cause feelings of stimulation or increased alertness - one "dip" is equal to 3 or 4 cigarettes.

The health consequences range from halitosis (bad breath) and stained teeth, to tissue deterioration and sores in the mouth and the gums, to severe health problems (such as various forms of oral cancer).

Who's at Risk?

The widespread use of smokeless tobacco among youth is a major health problem. According to recent national data, 9.3% of high school youth (15.8% males; 1.5% females) have reported using smokeless tobacco in the past month.

College and university student athletes currently report using smokeless tobacco, including leaf and/or snuff tobacco, up to 5 times per day. In a growing trend, women tobacco users needing a nicotine fix are placing chewing tobacco between their toes to hide their habit.

Athletes cite a variety of reasons for using smokeless tobacco, including recreational or social purposes, to feel good, to deal with the stresses of college life or college athletics, or to improve athletic performance. Despite knowing that the coach disapproves, many athletes report they use tobacco during competitions and practices.

Can It Be Prevented?

The most effective prevention programs are community-wide and combine education and public policy approaches. School-based programs to prevent tobacco use must pointedly discourage the use of smokeless tobacco.

Unfortunately, smokeless tobacco appears to be growing in popularity, with the common misconception that it's safe. Unfortunately, spit tobacco is as addictive for young people as it is for adults and just as dangerous. Studies show that chewing tobacco is a "gateway" substance, leading to cigarette smoking as well as the use of alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs. This pattern does not imply that tobacco use causes other drug use, but rather that other drug use rarely occurs before the use of tobacco.

Products are designed to entice children to try chewing tobacco. Shredded chewing gum in a pouch, is intended to look like chewing tobacco. Cherry-flavored spit tobacco may be an attempt to market a tobacco product with appeal to young people's taste buds.

Tips for Scripts

INFORM viewers of the dangers of chewing tobacco and make clear that chewing is not a safe alternative to smoking.
ENCOURAGE young viewers not to start chewing tobacco and to give it up if they've started.
DISCOURAGE young athletes and non-athletes from using smokeless tobacco to enhance performance.
EMPHASIZE the dangers of tobacco chewing and remind viewers that the risks outweigh the rewards.

Case Example

Life is good for Martina, the star forward on the Anytown State women's basketball team. She has a bright future in professional basketball until she injures her ankle. She goes to the doctor, who naturally wants to take a look at Martina's ankle. The doctor notices the curious brown stains on the toe of the athlete's sock. After finally convincing her to remove her sock, the doctor discovers tobacco leaves between Martina's toes (the nicotine is being absorbed through the skin). She begs the doctor to keep this between the two of them because there could be some serious consequences if the wrong person were to find out. The doctor agrees not to tell her coach, but only if she'll stop using. The doctor reviews the real risks of chewing tobacco, including cancer. Frightened, Martina promises to quit.


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Tip Sheets

 Are you a writer or producer working on a current TV or film project? Contact the program for technical assistance.

More Information:
 CDC Tobacco Information and Prevention Source
 CDC Smoking and Health Information,
(800) CDC-1311
 National Cancer Institute
(800) 4-CANCER

This page last reviewed July 23, 2003

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