It’s baseball season again! Ball parks, cheesy organ music, hot dogs and beer, players whose cheeks are swollen with wads of chewing tobacco ... It’s all part of the game, right? Well, maybe it is, but a closer examination of the “pinch between the cheek and gum” reveals that, like steroid use, it would be better off a memory to these players and the young fans they influence.

It’s baseball season again! Ball parks, cheesy organ music, hot dogs and beer, players whose cheeks are swollen with wads of chewing tobacco ... It’s all part of the game, right? Well, maybe it is, but a closer examination of the “pinch between the cheek and gum” reveals that, like steroid use, it would be better off a memory to these players and the young fans they influence.


No matter what you call it — chew, pinch, snuff, dip, plug, smokeless tobacco or spit tobacco — it is anything but harmless. Advertising for these products might give the impression that these forms of tobacco are safer than or a good alternative to smoking cigarettes. They couldn’t be more wrong.


So what are the harmful effects of this type if tobacco use? Well, we could start with oral cancer, which can strike someone after only three years of chewing. If you could see someone who has been through the disfiguring surgery to save their lives (hopefully) from cancer of the mouth, tongue, throat and larynx, you might think twice before using these products.


Addiction to nicotine is as strong with spit tobacco as it is for cigarettes. The average plug has more than twice the nicotine than a cigarette, according to the American Cancer Society. Once a person is addicted, it becomes harder to stop and the need for more nicotine is fed by either more frequent use of the product or switching to one with higher nicotine content.


Using spit tobacco increases heart rate and blood pressure due to the nicotine content. There is evidence that suggests that using chew may increase the risk of heart attacks.


Cavities and gum disease are very real and common consequences of having a wad of tobacco lying in the mouth for extended periods of time. The sugar added to the tobacco during processing can eat away at tooth enamel. The irritants in the tobacco itself can cause inflammation and receding of the gums, which in turn can lead to bone loss around the roots of the teeth, leading to tooth loss. Picture the caricature we’ve all seen in hillbilly movies of a face with a toothless grin, tobacco juice running down the chin. Pretty, ain’t it?


According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 10 million smokeless tobacco users in this country. Of those, 3 million are under the age of 21. Twenty-five percent of young users started before the sixth grade. Unfortunately, our youth see this drug use displayed on TV frequently, with baseball players comprising the highest category of users.


The tobacco companies have introduced smokeless products that are fruit-flavored and come in cool tins with hip names. These products are enticing to children who already see their sports heroes sporting a wad.


In a new and disturbing trend, young users, especially high school and college-age women, are placing the little pre-filled pouches of tobacco between their toes, where the nicotine will still be absorbed but can remain undetected, avoiding the social stigma of a “girl” using tobacco.


For someone who wants to quit using smokeless products, the process is similar to quitting smoking. Both the nicotine addiction and the behaviors surrounding the use must be addressed, so most people find a combination of nicotine replacement products and behavior modification most helpful. The American Cancer Society’s website, cancer.org, has a wealth of information about this. You could also speak with your health care provider, or call the NYS Quitline at 1-866-NYQUITS.


 


Pam Maxson is a health educator at Noyes Hospital in Dansville. If you have questions or suggestions for future articles, she can be reached at pmaxson@noyes-hospital.org or 585-335-4327.