ODA Tries a Winning Tactic to Fight Smokeless Tobacco

June 15, 2001
The Ohio Dental Association continues to battle the use of smokeless tobacco through operation T.A.C.T.I.C. (Teens Against Chewing Tobacco in the Community).

The Ohio Dental Association continues to battle the use of smokeless tobacco through operation T.A.C.T.I.C. (Teens Against Chewing Tobacco in the Community). T.A.C.T.I.C. is an ongoing effort in Ohio�s school districts that helps educate youth about the dangers of smokeless tobacco and implement anti-use programs.

Reaching youth is critical, as 15.3 percent of high school males and 8.2 percent of middle school boys in Ohio reported having used smokeless tobacco within the past 30 days, according to the 2000 Ohio Youth Tobacco Survey. In North America, its use is most prevalent among white males youth and young adults ages 10 to 30.

While some youths believe that smokeless tobacco is a safe alternative to cigarettes, research demonstrates its many dangers. According the National Cancer Institute, chewing tobacco and snuff contain 28 carcinogens and raises the chances of oral cancer, as well as head and neck cancers. Recent research at Wake Forest University also links its use to an increased incidence of breast cancer � alarming news for teen girls drawn to its use to encourage weight loss. Female teens are believed to use smokeless tobacco as an appetite suppressant, for the nicotine "buzz," and because of peer pressure.

More often than not, smokeless tobacco use leads to leukoplakia, or white patches, and oral lesions. More than half of users will see these symptoms within three years of starting use. About 5 percent of leukoplakias are cancerous when found, or exhibit changes that progress to cancer within 10 years, according to the American Cancer Society.

"The risk of oral cancer is not diminished when young people choose smokeless tobacco rather than cigarettes or cigars," said Nancy Quinn, executive director of the association. "Young people need to know that they are at risk for many cancers, and even those lucky enough to escape that danger can do serious damage to teeth and gums. At the very least they will have bad breath and an unsightly mouth."

Fortunately, efforts such as T.A.C.T.I.C. do get results. The American Dental Association reports that 35 percent of college athletes who participated in such programs gave up chewing tobacco within a year vs. 16 percent who did not take part, according to a study by the University of California in San Francisco. And usage figures reported in the current Ohio Youth Survey are down from 1997, when 18.9 percent of male respondents indicated use within 30 days.

Stopping use early provides clear benefits. Most lesions of the mouth in healthy young men will dissipate six weeks after quitting, according to a 1999 U.S. Air Force study reported by the American Dental Association. It was unclear if those benefits would apply to older smokeless tobacco users.

Schools can incorporate T.A.C.T.I.C. easily into the curriculum of any age level; the program module, which includes a video and instruction manual, is available from the ODA for $35 � and all materials can be duplicated for use throughout the classroom and school. In addition, the program can be tailored by teachers to fit within a one-time program or as an ongoing study, with activity sheets and learning modules.

The enclosed materials highlight alarming statistics and facts about the dangers of smokeless tobacco and positive steps that parents, schools, the community, and those using smokeless tobacco can take to reduce the incidence of use.

Statistics and Facts about Smokeless Tobacco

Chewing tobacco and snuff are often seen as safe alternatives to cigarettes, but because users hold tobacco in their mouth longer than smoking counterparts, even more harmful chemicals can enter the body. (American Academy of Pediatrics)

Leukoplakia, a disease characterized by white patches and oral lesions on the cheeks, gums, or tongue, is present in 60 to 78 percent of smokeless tobacco users. More than half show symptoms within three years of starting tobacco use. (National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids)

Nationwide, almost 20 percent of male high school students report using smokeless tobacco products within the past 30 days. (Center for Disease Control)

While 77 percent of children knew that smoking was very harmful to their health, only 40 percent said that smokeless tobacco was very dangerous, according to a survey. (Office of the Surgeon General)

2.8 percent of Ohio middle school students and 5.5 percent of high school students reported using smokeless tobacco on school property in the previous 30 days. (2000 Ohio Youth Tobacco Survey, Ohio Department of Health)

Chewing tobacco contains 28 carcinogens, including tobacco-specific nitrosamines. Other cancer-causing substances include formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, crotonaldehyde, hydrazine, arsenic, nickel, cadmium, benzopyrene, and polonium (which gives off radiation). (National Cancer Institute)

Smokeless tobacco users absorb two to three times the amount of addictive nicotine as those who smoke cigarettes. (National Cancer Institute)

Smokeless tobacco users increase their risk of cancers of the oral cavity, throat, larynx, and esophagus.

Investigators found that Eastern Band Cherokee women 18 and older who use snuff increase their risk of breast cancer almost eightfold. (Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center)

Tobacco-related diseases cost Ohio�s economy $3.4 billion annually. Each Ohio household pays $350 in state and federal taxes for tobacco-caused health costs. (Coalition for a Healthier Ohio)

About 29,800 new cases of oral and oropharyngeal cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year, with 8,100 people dying of these cancers, (American Cancer Society)