Frankfort, Ky. (Feb. 11, 2005) – In an effort to help curb youth spit tobacco use, the Kentucky Department for Public Health’s (DPH) Tobacco Prevention and Cessation program is encouraging teens to be “Through with Chew” by participating in the Great American Spit Out on Thursday, Feb. 17.
“Through with Chew” is a public awareness campaign the week of February 13–19, aimed at decreasing spit tobacco use among Kentucky’s youth and increasing their knowledge of the health effects of using these products. The “Through with Chew” program was established in 1989 by the American Academy of Otolaryngology and has been held in states and communities across the nation. February is also National Children’s Dental Health Month.
"Smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to cigarettes, as some young people believe, and it is even more habit forming because it contains a higher concentration of nicotine than in cigarettes,” warns Irene Centers, Program Manager for the Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program. “We need to get this message out; too many of our young people see this as a substitute to smoking.”
The 2002 Kentucky Youth Tobacco Survey reported no statistically significant change in the number of high school students using spit tobacco products. The report reflects a one percent increase in spit tobacco use from 23 to 24 percent during the previous two years. However, a breakdown by grade reveals a 5 percent increase among 12th grade students during the two year period.
Overall middle school use indicates a 2 percent increase since 2000, with the highest increase among 6th graders – jumping from 4 percent to 7 percent.
Currently 18 percent of Kentucky’s middle school males report using spit tobacco in the last 30 days and 24 percent of Kentucky high school males. Nationally, 5.7 percent of middle school males and 11.8 percent of high school males report spit tobacco use.
Like cigars and cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products contain a variety of toxins associated with cancer. At least 28 cancer-causing chemicals have been identified in smokeless tobacco products. Smokeless tobacco can cause oral cancer, especially in the cheeks, gums, and throat. Smokeless tobacco users are up to 50 times more likely to get oral cancer than nonusers.
Oral cancer kills quickly, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology. The early signs of oral cancer most frequently occur at the site where spit tobacco is held in the mouth. Leukoplakia, a white, leathery-like patch forms in the mouth at this site and is considered pre-cancerous.
Other early warning signs include a sore that bleeds easily and doesn’t heal, a lump anywhere in the mouth or neck, or trouble chewing, swallowing, or moving the tongue or jaw. These cancers can form within five years of regular use.
Sharlee Shirley, dental hygienist and Spit Tobacco Education Coordinator for DPH said, "The use of smokeless tobacco can also lead to other oral problems, such as mouth sores, gum recessions, tooth decay, bad breath, and permanent discoloration of teeth." Once gum tissue recedes, the roots of teeth are exposed, increasing the risk for tooth decay. The roots may also become sensitive to hot and cold or other irritants, causing discomfort when eating or drinking.
Spit tobacco users should check monthly for visible damage to teeth, gums, the tongue and surrounding tissue. “Our office has created and distributes oral cancer self-screening kits.” said Shirley. The kits are available by contacting Shirley at SharleeM.Shirley@ky.gov or the Tobacco Coordinator in your local health department. These kits were made available through a partnership between DPH and the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry.
Kentucky has also been addressing the hazards of spit tobacco use with the “Quit Spit Kit.” The kits have been distributed to schools, dentist offices, and 4H extension agents as part of the HEEL program (Health Education Through Extension Leadership) in all 120 counties. The kits contain an educational video about spit tobacco use and informational brochures to distribute to students.
There are two primary types of smokeless tobacco: chewing tobacco and snuff. Chewing tobacco may be loose leaf, plug, or twist. Snuff is finely ground tobacco that can be dry, moist, or in sachets. Most smokeless tobacco users place the tobacco in their cheek or between their gum and cheek. They then suck on the tobacco and spit out the tobacco juices.
Each year, more than 30,000 new cases of cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx are diagnosed and over 8,000 deaths due to oral cancer occur. According to the MMWR (Morbidity, Mortality Weekly Report) the 5-year survival rate for these cancers is only about 50 percent. Mortality from oral cancer is nearly twice as high in some minorities (especially black males) as it is in whites. Methods used to treat oral cancers (surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy) are disfiguring and costly. Early detection is key to increasing the survival rate for these cancers.
For help quitting - call toll free 1-800-QUITNOW or contact the tobacco coordinator in your local health department.