Great American Spit Out urges chewing tobacco users to quit


At a glance ...

• Through With Chew Week is Feb. 19 through 25.

• The national event urges chewing tobacco users to quit.

• The Great American Spit Out is Feb. 23.

• The event takes place during Through With Chew Week and encourages chewing tobacco users to quit for at least 24 hours.

• The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association has free smokeless tobacco quit kits at its Craig office, 745 Russell St., and its Steamboat Springs office, 940 Central Park Drive, Suite 101.

• Nicotine replacements and over-the-phone counseling are available through the Colorado QuitLine at 1-800-784-8669.

Ways to Quit

The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association suggests the following tips for people who are trying to quit chewing, smoking or using other kinds of tobacco.

Get help: The Colorado QuitLine offers counseling over the phone and also can provide nicotine replacements and other aids.

Ditch the spit can: Make chewing or smoking off-limits—both to yourself and others—in your home and vehicle. Throw away spit bottles, ashtrays and any other tobacco materials in your house or car.

Take the gradual approach: Easing off nicotine may be easier than quitting cold turkey. Set a date to be completely smoke-free, then gradually reduce your tobacco use to meet that date.

Write it down: Keep a journal of your goals to quit chewing or smoking, as well as what you plan to do after you quit. Also take note of the triggers that set off nicotine cravings and, more importantly, the reasons you want to quit.

Chew and You

Chewing tobacco contains nicotine, an addictive drug, along with other dangerous substances, including:

• Polonium 210— a radioactive compound found in nuclear waste

• N-Nitrosamines — cancer-causing agents

• Formaldehyde — embalming fluid

• Cadmium — a substance used in batteries and nuclear reactor shields

• Cyanide and arsenic — poisons

• Benzene — a substance found in insecticides and motor fuels

• Lead — nerve poison

Source: American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery

Every so often, Rodney Kowach is reminded of the habit he gave up more than 15 years ago.

“Today, I still smell a fresh-opened can of Copenhagen and you go, ‘Oh, that smells good,’ but I know better,” said Kowach, 47, a lifelong Craig resident.

He tried to quit chewing tobacco at least four times before he finally succeeded, he said.

His story isn’t an uncommon one.

Chewing, like smoking, is a pernicious habit to kick, due largely to nicotine, the addictive substance that occurs naturally in tobacco, said Vicki Barron, a community health educator with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

Tobacco users of any stripe usually try six or seven times before they can wean themselves from the drug, she said.

The Great American Spit Out on Feb. 23 urges new and veteran quitters to try to kick the habit for at least 24 hours. The event is part of Through With Chew Week, which takes place Feb. 19 through 25.

Chewing tobacco predominantly is a male pastime in the U.S.

An estimated 7 percent of adult men in America chew tobacco, compared to only 0.3 percent of women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

Chew is the “tobacco of choice” for teen boys and men in their early 20s, Barron said.

Kowach fit into that demographic. He began chewing tobacco when he was 16, he said.

Chewing tobacco is sometimes cast as the safer alternative to smoking, but the illusion hides a deadly reality.

“A lot of people think that they’re not exposing others to smoke and they don’t realize how harmful it is and what’s in there,” Barron said.

An average-sized dip of chew held in the mouth for 30 minutes packs as much nicotine as four cigarettes, the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery reported on its website.

That same pinch contains other noxious compounds, including radioactive Polonium 210, the poisons cyanide and arsenic, and cadmium, a toxic metal used in batteries and nuclear reactor shields, according to the website.

Chewing tobacco carries health hazards, Barron said, including heart disease and circulatory problems. Longtime chew users can develop white, leathery patches in the mouth that could be a precursor to oral cancer.

“There is a possibility that smokeless tobacco causes an increase in pancreatic cancer which … is a very aggressive cancer,” she said.

Chewing tobacco carries another ingredient: sugar, Barron said, and lots of it.

“People don’t think about it,” she said. “…They don’t realize that it’s literally like putting sugar directly on your teeth, and it decays the teeth.”

The hazard of chewing, along with its unsightly side effects, is one of the messages the VNA is trying to send as it encourages users to quit, Barron said.

The other is persistence.

“That’s one of the things we want people to understand,” she said. “If they try five times and they fail, they’re not a failure. They need to keep trying because it’s different for everybody.

“…We want them to think, ‘Every time I try it’s another step closer to quitting.’”

Kowach finally kicked the habit by gradually replacing real tobacco with an herbal look-alike, he said.

He doesn’t regret it. He no longer worries about getting cancer or tooth decay, and he’s saved a sizable chunk of change since he stopped buying chewing tobacco, he said.

His advice for avoiding the risks of chewing tobacco is simple.

“Don’t even start,” he said.

Free chewing tobacco quit kits are available at the VNA’s Craig office, 745 Russell St., and its Steamboat Springs office, 940 Central Park Drive, Suite 101.

The Colorado QuitLine offers nicotine patches, gums and lozenges and counseling over the phone to people trying to quit.

For more information, call 1-800-784-8669.

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