Smokeless tobacco not safe alternative
June 14, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla.-- Kelda Hodges often feels like she is fighting an uphill battle, trying to help people quit using tobacco products.
As a tobacco cessation and health promotions registered nurse at Reynolds Army Community Hospital, she works to help Soldiers and family members at Fort Sill quit using cigarettes and other tobacco products. And while smoking continues to be the most significant health risk in the military, she has noticed a rise in the use of smokeless tobacco in recent years chewing tobacco, and dips like snuff. This is because it has become increasingly difficult to smoke cigarettes in most public places, especially on military posts.
"Many people think that using smokeless tobacco products is the lesser of two evils, but really smokeless tobacco has three to four times more nicotine than cigarettes," said Hodges. "For those who dip a can of smokeless tobacco a day, that's the equivalent of 60 cigarettes three packs."
Recent marketing campaigns by the tobacco industry have promoted the idea that smokeless tobacco is a less harmful alternative for those who want to quit smoking. However, Hodges pointed out that it is difficult to know how much nicotine a person is getting from a particular smokeless tobacco product because there are no regulations regarding how much nicotine the tobacco companies put in the products.
"Smokeless tobacco is so concentrated that holding an average dip in your mouth for only 30 minutes gives you as much nicotine as smoking three cigarettes. That's the difficult thing about getting our Soldiers and dependents to quit, is that it becomes part of them as an oral addiction, and is a much harder habit to break than putting that cigarette to your lips," she said.
Hodges named many of the harmful effects of smokeless tobacco: cancers of the mouth, tongue and throat, cancers of the esophagus, stomach, intestines and color; pancreatic cancer and increased risk of heart disease, heart attacks and stroke. The toxins from tobacco use, especially smokeless products, increase the risks of cancer 15 times greater than normal, especially oral cancers.
"Even though these smokeless products are marketed as a less harmful alternative to smoking, they can be just as deadly. And, they have not been proven to help smokers quit. That's because cessation for people using smokeless tobacco is different for people who smoke. It's all because of the oral habit, and the power of the addiction they are experiencing," she emphasized.
"It is very hard to replace that oral habit. Some people say you can replace it by chewing on a straw or a toothpick, but if you are in uniform you can't do any of those things. All of the cessation literature says "stick some hard candy in your mouth," but that doesn't work for Soldiers especially if it's a sugary candy and the Soldier is borderline on meeting the weight standards. So if you are in the Army, what are you going to do?"
Hodges leads counseling classes as part of the tobacco cessation program and can offer clients several options to help them quit using tobacco, including nicotine replacement therapy patches; bupropion, also known as Zyban; or nicotine gums. The program also uses behavior modification, to replace bad habits with good behavior through a support group to help those who want to quit.
"It is a much more powerful addiction than smoking, even though some people say it's the same as tobacco. But it's not the same, because of the oral addictions they experience. The amount of nicotine that's in the smokeless products, plus the fact that they can continually use the product around the clock and nobody will notice, creates a very unhealthy situation. We're here to assist them when they are ready for help," Hodges said.
Soldiers at Fort Sill who want to quit using tobacco products can call the Tobacco Cessation program at RACH at 580-442-0684. There are also online resources for quitting tobacco at www.smokefree.gov