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Smokeless Doesn’t Mean Harmless

Dec 03, 2014
When it comes to tobacco, smokeless doesn’t mean harmless. That’s the message of Know What’s In Your Mouth (knowwhatsinyourmouth.ca), a youth-developed campaign highlighting the dangers of using smokeless tobacco.

Simcoe Muskoka Medical Officer of Health column

To publish any time after December 3, 2014

By Dr. Lisa Simon

Smokeless Doesn’t Mean Harmless

When it comes to tobacco, smokeless doesn’t mean harmless.  That’s the message of Know What’s In Your Mouth (knowwhatsinyourmouth.ca), a youth-developed campaign highlighting the dangers of using smokeless tobacco. Going by names like “chew”, “spit”, “dip”, and “snuff”,  most types are held in the mouth for prolonged periods of time. Since the juices that form aren’t meant to be swallowed, the user must spit frequently as saliva collects. 

For parents, coaches, and educators, it can be a surprise to learn that smokeless tobacco use is a growing trend among youth. According to the most recent data (2011-2013) from the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, approximately 1 in 10 youth in Simcoe Muskoka use chewing tobacco.

There are several reasons youth are choosing to use chew tobacco. Products are available in flavours that appeal to young consumers, like cherry, grape and vanilla. The packaging can be very similar to candy, gum, makeup and highlighters, which are intentional strategies by the tobacco industry to make it harder for youth to recognize these as dangerous tobacco products.  It is also a tobacco company strategy, following the ban of smoking in public places, to promote and sell smokeless products that can be used in these settings.

There is also a mistaken belief that chew tobacco is less harmful than smoking cigarettes. The truth is that even though it is not inhaled it directly into the  lungs, it is held in the mouth, which can cause mouth, throat, and stomach cancers in as little as five years of use.  Another myth is that chewing tobacco will enhance athletic performance. However, chewing tobacco can actually result in increased blood pressure and is counterproductive to better sports performance.  

Clues that indicate chew tobacco is being used are: a visible lump along the lower jaw where the plug or dip is held against the gum, bad breath, yellowed teeth, or carrying a receptacle like a pop can for spitting. A campaign toolkit is available and has been shared with coaches and educators as well as community leaders and youth, offering easy and fun ways  for youth to take ownership of the message and make it their own.

For more information about chew tobacco visit knowwhatsinyourmouth.ca, and for information about other tobacco programs offered by the health unit, call Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, connect with us on Facebook or Twitter, or visit simcoemuskokahealth.org.

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Dr. Simon is one of Simcoe Muskoka’s associate medical officers of health.


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