The Power In a Little Tin Can


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The Power In a Little Tin Can

  1. 1. The Power InA Little Tin Can Who would ever think that the contents of one tiny three-ounce can of smokeless tobacco could get such a strong-hold on 7.8 million people? That’s how many Americans – male and female, age 12 and older - regularly use smokeless tobacco products. Wait! Did we just say “age 12?” Yes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one-third of regular smokeless tobacco users are under age 21, and more than half of them developed the habit before age 13. Who Chews? • High school boys - 11.8% • Adult men - 9.5% • High school girls - 1.4% • Adult women - 1.2% • Among all ethnic/racial groups, American Indian/Alaskan Native children and adolescents are among the highest users of smokeless tobacco products - 43% boys and 34% girls use smokeless tobacco. • 4.5% of people who are employed full-time use smokeless tobacco • 4.1% of unemployed people use smokeless tobacco • 2.2% of people who are employed part-time Source: National Cancer Institute,, National Health Interview Survey 2000, National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2002, Tobacco chapter. What is smokeless tobacco? Smokeless tobacco is also called spit tobacco, chewing tobacco, chew, chaw, dip, plug, and other names. It comes in two forms: chewing tobacco and snuff. Chewing tobacco is a leaf product and is typically sold in 1.5 – 3 ounce pouches or in brick form. Snuff is a powder form of tobacco and is sold in a small tin can. Users pinch off a piece of tobacco or snuff and place it in their mouths between the cheek and gum. Smokeless tobacco products are relatively easy to purchase and cost about as much as a pack of cigarettes. Sellers have made it convenient to purchase chew or snuff at stores, via internet, by toll-free phone orders and even through mail order. A can of snuff costs about $3.50 and a pouch of chewing tobacco sells for $2.50 or more. Regular users go through an average of one to three cans or pouches a week; others even one a day.
  2. 2. How Users Become Addicted to Smokeless TobaccoPeople who chew or use snuff often start because of peer pressure. Children, adolescents andyoung adults who are uninformed about the dangers of addiction may also start usingsmokeless tobacco because their role models – parents, sports heroes or other celebrities - useit. Like adults, younger users may also turn to smokeless products because they think they aresafer than smoking cigarettes. Many of these youth believe that occasional use isn’t harmful, orthey think they can quit at any time they want.Smokeless tobacco products contain high concentrations of nicotine, the addictive chemical thatgets a user “high” and “hooked” on tobacco. A user keeps chewing tobacco in his/her mouth forseveral hours in order to get a nicotine high. Nicotine from snuff is more rapidly absorbed intothe bloodstream which produces a faster high. Holding one pinch of smokeless tobacco in yourmouth for 30 minutes delivers as much nicotine as 3-4 cigarettes. That means that a personwho keeps a wad of chewing tobacco in his/her mouth for two hours can essentially absorb asmuch nicotine as from 12-16 cigarettes.Why is nicotine so addictive?Nicotine affects your brain. It stimulates neurons that release dopamine in the reward pathwaysof your brain. These pathways house your built-in survival mechanisms that reinforce criticalbehaviors, like eating when you feel hungry. These are the areas of the brain that also producepleasant, happy feelings. When you use nicotine, your brain essentially tells you “this feelsgood, keep doing it.” So, you’re encouraged to keep using nicotine over and over againbecause of the peaceful, rewarding feelings you get from it afterwards.Your brain also produces natural pain killers called endorphins that act a lot like the drugmorphine. Endorphins can mask pain and produce feelings of euphoria – the peaceful,temporary “high” you get after using nicotine.The effects of nicotine can last anywhere from 40 minutes to a few hours. When your body getsused to current levels of nicotine intake, you will need to use more tobacco, or a stronger brand,to get the same level of good feelings again. Nicotine is so addictive that some smokelesstobacco users sleep with it in their mouths in order to keep getting nicotine through the night.What’s In Smokeless Tobacco?Just as coffees and liquors are now available in various flavors, so are smokeless tobaccoproducts. Vanilla, berry, apple, peach and mint are popular flavor ingredients added to tobacco,and new ones continue to be developed to meet growing consumer demand.
  3. 3. But there are a few other not-so-pleasant additives that aren’t listed on the can or pouch thatusers should be aware of. At least 28 cancer-causing chemicals have been found in smokelesstobacco including: • Arsenic — a metallic element which forms poisonous compounds. Rat poisons also contain arsenic. • Benzene – an element used in the manufacture of plastics, detergents, pesticides, and other chemicals. • Cadmium — a metallic element with poisonous salts. Cadmium is used in car batteries. • Cyanide – a rapidly acting, potentially deadly chemical that can exist as a gas or in crystal form. Cyanide is used to kill mice, rats, lice, cockroaches and other pests. • Formaldehyde — used in embalming fluid. • Lead – repeated exposure can cause nerve damage • Nitrosamines — these are the most powerful cancer-causing agents in smokeless tobacco. Only 5 ppb (parts per billion) of nitrosamines are allowed in consumer products such as beer and bacon. Smokeless tobacco contains from 20 to 43,000 times more nitrosamines. • Polonium 210 — radioactive particles that turn into radon.How Smokeless Tobacco Affects YouIf the list of toxic ingredients just mentioned isn’t enough to convince you that using smokelesstobacco can cause cancer, here’s a list of some other ways these products can affect yourhealth and social life:Cancer. It’s worth saying it again. If you continue to use smokeless tobacco, you risk gettingcancers of the mouth, lips, tongue, cheeks, jaw and/or throat. Partial or complete surgicalremoval of these vital body parts may be necessary to attempt to save your life if you developcancer.Heart disease. Nicotine in your body causes increased heart rate, increased blood pressure,and sometimes irregular heart beats. It increases your risk for blot clots, heart attacks andstrokes.Gum and tooth disease. Smokeless tobacco causes bad breath and permanently discolorsteeth. Repeated direct contact with the gums causes them to recede. Receding gumscontribute to tooth loss. Spit tobacco also contains a lot of sugar. When the sugar mixes withplaque on your teeth, acids form that destroy tooth enamel, causing cavities, and chronic painfulsores.
  4. 4. Leukoplakia. This pre-cancerous condition develops after repeated irritation from tobaccojuice in your mouth. It looks like a white patch of skin and the patches can vary in size andshape.Ulcers. Sometimes users may accidentally swallow some of the tobacco. Nicotine in thetobacco juice can irritate the stomach and contribute to ulcers.Spitting/drooling. Smokeless tobacco causes your mouth to make saliva that you must oftenspit while chewing. It’s not uncommon for users to “spit and splash” – meaning, some of thebrown saliva will splatter on their clothes, shoes, face, car and furniture.Social effects. Bad breath, gunk-stained teeth and constant spitting or drooling can leave youwith a very limited social life, and perhaps no love life.For more information on quitting smokeless tobacco, visit Also visit thefollowing sites:National Cancer Institute - www.cancer.govAmerican Cancer Society – www.cancer.orgCenters for Disease Control and Prevention – www.cdc.govNational Institutes of Health – helpful links: National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.govThis information is intended for educational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult yourphysician for advice about changes that may affect your health.