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Students learn about the dangers of smokeless tobacco

Piedmont Middle School TRU Club

He's called "the man without a face." Rick Bender, oral cancer survivor and national speaker, visited Sun Valley, Piedmont, and Parkwood middle schools on Tuesday, October 25, and spoke to over 1,000 students about the dangers and potential consequences of using smokeless tobacco, also known as spit tobacco.

As is often the case, Mr. Bender started using spit tobacco or "chew" at the young age of 12. "Several things influenced me in this use, probably the biggest being the game of baseball," Mr. Bender told the youth. At the age of 26, Mr. Bender was diagnosed with oral cancer and underwent the first of four major surgeries. He lost one-third of his tongue, half of his jaw, twenty-five percent of the use of his right arm and almost his life. After this life-changing fight with cancer, Mr. Bender dedicated himself to educating others, especially youth, about the dangers of using smokeless tobacco.

According to the 2009 North Carolina Youth Tobacco Use Survey, nine percent of high school teens statewide currently use smokeless tobacco. This number increases to fifteen percent when looking at high school males alone. In pockets of Union County, the rates for high school boys using smokeless tobacco can jump to as high as 27 percent (Union County Youth Drug Use Survey, 2008).

Although smoking rates in North Carolina are on the decline, smokeless tobacco rates have been slowly increasing in the U.S. As more smoke-free regulations pass and smoking becomes less socially acceptable, the use of new smokeless tobacco products is becoming more popular. In fact, some young people are becoming "dual users," whereby they smoke when they can and then use smokeless tobacco when they cannot smoke. Of concern in the Charlotte area is the emergence of a new dissolvable tobacco product that is spit-less and comes in the shape of sticks, pellets and strips that dissolve in the mouth. The Charlotte metro region is currently a test market for these new smokeless products. Another new and popular product is called snus and it, too, is marketed as spit-less, easy to hide and comes in containers shaped like mints or gum, or even a cell phone. These products are typically high in nicotine content and contain the same cancer-causing toxins as other forms of tobacco. The message to youth is simple - there is no safe form of tobacco.

Bender's visit to Union County was made possible through funding from the TRU initiative, which uses tobacco settlement dollars to fund local youth tobacco prevention activities. The TRU initiative, which has successfully reduced teen smoking rates in North Carolina to historic lows, may disappear after June 2012. Without funding, progress in reducing teen tobacco use will likely stall and rates will eventually begin to climb to previous levels.

To read the Channel 14 news story click here or view the video from Channel 14 below.

For more information, contact Union County Public Schools Tobacco Free Schools at 704-290-1522.

Written by: Kim Bayha, Tobacco Prevention Specialist
Posted: Oct 26, 2011 by Kim Bayha

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