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Published: March, 2011; Vol 7, Num 10
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Smokeless Tobacco Does Not Mean Safer Tobacco

Having trouble sticking with your New Year’s resolution to give up cigarettes? The tobacco industry has a suggestion: switch to smokeless.

In the wake of new government regulations that significantly curtail cigarette advertising, tobacco companies have stepped up and retooled marketing of smokeless tobacco products, promoting them not only for their flavor but also as an assist for breaking the cigarette habit.

A representative for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company explained: “For those making that attempt, but still wanting the pleasure of tobacco, we’re saying, ‘Here’s an option.’”

Alternate description

LHSFNA Management
Co-Chairman
Noel C. Borck

But, as the LHSFNA’s Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck points out, smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative.

“The tobacco companies imply otherwise, but the fact of the matter is, smokeless tobacco – chewed, sniffed or sucked like hard candy – is just as addicting as cigarettes,” Borck says. “If your motivation for quitting is improving your health, picking up the smokeless habit will undermine most of the benefits that come with snuffing out that last cigarette.”

Twenty-eight carcinogens – including formaldehyde, arsenic, cadmium and the most potent of tobacco’s cancer causing agents, tobacco-specific nitrosamines – are present in all smokeless tobacco products. Along with highly concentrated forms of nicotine, tobacco’s addictive ingredient, these disease catalysts are rapidly absorbed through the oral and nasal cavities. Like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco can produce cancers of the mouth and throat – more than 25,000 new cases are diagnosed every year – and of the esophagus and pancreas. These cancers kill 5,800 Americans annually. In addition, sweeteners and salts in smokeless tobacco raise the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and tooth decay. Smokeless tobacco also increases the likelihood for leukoplakia, small white, precancerous patches that form inside the mouth.

In the United States, smokeless tobacco users number approximately 14 million. One third are under the age of 21, and more than half picked up the habit before they were 13. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the consumer base for smokeless tobacco products has grown as public prohibitions against smoking increased. A LIUNA study finds that many of these users are Laborers.

Smokeless tobacco packs a powerful punch. An average-size dip held in the mouth for 30 minutes is the equivalent of smoking four cigarettes. Two-can-a-week users get as much nicotine as smokers with pack- and-a-half-a-day habits. Smokeless tobacco products are also expensive. One can costs an average of $5.75. Can-a-day dippers spend more than $1,900 annually indulging their habit.

Types of Smokeless Tobacco Products

  • Chewing tobacco: Loose, sweetened tobacco leaves – also called “chew” or “chaw” – packaged in pouches.
  • Plug: Chewing tobacco pressed into a brick, often with the help of sweeteners such as molasses.
  • Twist: Flavored chewing tobacco braided and twisted into rope-like strands.
  • Snuff: Finely ground or shredded tobacco leaves available in dry and moist forms and packaged in tins or pouches. Dry snuff is sniffed. Moist forms are packed between the cheek, lip or gum. Users do not chew snuff.
  • Snus: Snus (pronounced snoos) also comes in a small pouch that is placed between the upper lip and gum where it is held for about a half-hour and then discarded. Unlike with other forms of smokeless tobacco, snus users do not spit tobacco juice.
  • Dissolvable tobacco products: Pieces of compressed tobacco that, like small hard candies, dissolve in the mouth. Often referred to as lozenges, they are not to be confused with the nicotine replacement tablets that are sometimes used to help people quit smoking.

“The smokeless tobacco habit can be every bit as deadly and difficult to conquer as smoking,” says Borck. “Trading cigarettes for ‘chew’ simply shifts how tobacco’s toxins enter your body. Don’t be tempted by advertising that suggests benefits to switching. There aren’t any.”

The LHSFNA’s new Laborers’ Guide to Tobacco offers suggestions and tips for quitting both smoking and smokeless tobacco. The guide, along with brochures and posters containing information about tobacco’s hazards, can be ordered through the Fund’s publications catalogue.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]