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July 01, 2014 7:20 am

EDITORIAL: Chewing tobacco needs to be lodged in past, not cheek

Written by Tom Lawrence

Chewing tobacco has chewed up and swallowed enough victims.

For generations, millions of Americans have “put a pinch between cheek and gum,” providing themselves with a hit of nicotine during the day. They have also quite likely exposed themselves to a greater risk of several diseases, including cancer of the mouth, tongue, cheek, gum, throat, esophagus, stomach and pancreas — sense a trend? — according to the American Cancer Society.

In addition, it can lead to heart attacks, strokes, bone loss, teeth loss and many other maladies. People who chew tobacco often become smokers. Some both smoke and use smokeless tobacco, doubling their risk.

It also causes bad breath. So what was the attraction again?

It’s a topic worth discussing right now, with the death last month of Hall of Fame outfielder and eight-time batting champion Tony Gwynn. “Mr. Padre” died at 54 of malignancy of the parotid gland.

Gwynn developed cancer on the right side of his mouth, right where he stuck his chew. He was convinced it led to the cancer that killed him.

He’s not the first ballplayer to develop cancer that appears linked to using spit tobacco, as opponents of the substance prefer to call chewing tobacco. It’s an accurate description of the habit, which in addition to all the health risks it causes, is rather disgusting.

Thankfully, more players are waking up to the reality of the plug of tobacco they lodge into the corner of their mouth. Stephen Strasburg, the fastball-firing Washington Nationals pitcher who played for Gwynn when the great hitter coached his alma mater, San Diego State University, said he will now quit using.

“I think it’s a disgusting habit, looking back on it,” Strasburg said. “I was pretty naive when I started. Just doing it here and there, I didn’t think it was going to be such an addiction. ... Bottom line is, I want to be around for my family.”

There is no doubt about that. It’s something tobacco chewers in our state need to think about.

According to a 2010 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, Wyoming had the highest percentage of use of smokeless tobacco. About 9 percent of all adults, both men and women, use it, the study reported.

Many start young, and once hooked, become longtime users and customers — longtime depending on their lifespan when addicted to such a dangerous substance, of course.

Chewing tobacco has a strong hold here. It has long been popular with ranchers, rodeo folks and baseball players, and published reports cite our “rodeo culture” as one reason for its popularity.

But a lot of traditions are tossed aside when new, better information is discovered. Chewing tobacco should be one of them.

We realize it’s difficult to discard such an ingrained habit. Go to howtoquitdipping.org for help in ditching the dip. The Wyoming Department of Health also offers assistance through its Wyoming Quit Tobacco Program at www.quitwyo.org.

3 comments

  • Comment Link July 01, 2014 8:19 am posted by clipstein

    Oh yes light up a joint that is all right. Why don't you list the bad points of lighting a joint. You have enough drug problems so it should be easy.

  • Comment Link July 02, 2014 6:25 pm posted by clipstein

    lets try it this way. would rather have one smokes or uses smokeless than one lighting up a joint working for me. you have enough problems with pot and other drugs. do an editorial about the crime, murders and sucking the system caused from them.

  • Comment Link July 06, 2014 5:28 am posted by JD

    As stated, it's a tough one to quit. I chewed for about 18 year, loved it and was highly addicted. As I've told my friends many times, intense fear will make you quit anything. Finally my dentist explained I was almost to the point where the oral surgeon would peel some skin off the roof of my mouth, then sew it to my receding gums. Threw the Copenhagen can away when I left his office, never chewed again. :)

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