Judith Hiester : Smokeless, not harmless

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Judith Hiester

NWCOVNA Tobacco Prevention Program

Most of our youths avoid all types of tobacco use and should be commended for making this healthy life choice. But there is significant evidence that smokeless tobacco use among youths remains a significant issue in Northwest Colorado.

About 17 percent of rural Colorado high school boys, 7 percent of rural Colorado middle school boys, 3 percent of statewide high school girls and 1 percent of statewide middle school girls chew or snuff smokeless tobacco, and many erroneously think it is safer than smoking. Other reasons youths often state to support their smokeless tobacco use include: adult smokeless-tobacco-user role models, exposure to tobacco industry media and advertising, belief in the myth that smokeless tobacco use improves athletic performance and peer pressure.

Smokeless tobacco is addictive, habit forming and deadly, and the most popular brands of smokeless tobacco may be the most addictive. In fact, one smokeless tobacco "dip" or "pinch" can be equal to four cigarettes depending on how much "free-base" nicotine is available through the product.

Chewed, snorted, sucked or smoked, smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to cigarettes. Within 20 minutes, the nicotine in smokeless tobacco can cause increases in pulse and blood pressure and a decrease in appetite -- all of which put unnecessary stress on the heart and can lead to heart disease, stroke and death. Smokeless tobacco causes nasal, mouth, lip and throat cancer and kills more than 450,000 people in the United States every year. Other health consequences range from chronic bad breath and tooth discoloration, decay and loss; to tissue deterioration and mouth, gum and nasal sores.

We should all be very concerned. Children are experimenting with smokeless tobacco, becoming addicted and eventually adding or switching to cigarette use.

There is much that we can do. Youths can reject tobacco use by refusing to succumb to peer pressure and the myths perpetuated through tobacco advertising and the media. Parents and other influential adults can lead by example. If you use tobacco -- get help and quit. And whether or not you use tobacco -- question your youths, advise them on the dangers and support them to reject or quit their tobacco use. Retailers can and should request identification from youths and assure that smokeless and other tobacco products are not easily accessible to youths. Health care providers can continue to assess, advise and provide cessation support to youths and their parents. And business, community and government organizations can examine their positions on tobacco use, tobacco sponsorship and secondhand smoke.

Free, professional counseling to help people quit smoking in English or Spanish is available through the Colorado Quitline at 1-800-639-quit (7848) or the Internet-based Colorado QuitNet, www.co.quitnet.com.

Adult and teen Tobacco Cessation Quit Kits always are available from the Visiting Nurse Association offices: 940 Central Park Dr, No. 101 in Steamboat and 745 Russell St. in Craig. Community groups and worksites interested in developing their own tobacco cessation programs can call the Northwest Colorado VNA's Tobacco Prevention Program at 879-1632, ext. 39.

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