Live Well Polk

If you want to avoid the harmful effects of tobacco, that doesn’t just mean giving up smoking, although that is a good start. Taking another step could add even more health benefits – getting rid of the dip and chewing tobacco, too.

An assessment of health needs in the community determined that Polk County has the highest rate of oral cancer in a six-county region that also includes Floyd, Gordon, Chattooga, Bartow and Cherokee County, Alabama. Much of that can be attributed to the use of smokeless tobacco. While dipping or chewing means neither you nor your neighbor are inhaling smoke, that doesn’t mean it is healthy.

Imagine smoking 30 to 40 cigarettes a day. That’s nearly two packs of cigarettes. But here’s what you might not know. Someone who chews or dips 8 to 10 times a day, absorbs the same amount of nicotine as that heavy smoker.

And nicotine might not be the worst thing you are getting from chewing tobacco. The Centers for Disease Control reports that no less than twenty-eight known carcinogens are found in smokeless tobacco.

Smokeless tobacco also contains chemical compounds known as tobacco-specific nitrosamines, or TSNAs. These are the most harmful chemicals in smokeless tobacco, according to the National Cancer Institute. TSNAs are formed during the growing, curing, fermenting, and aging of tobacco. The amount of these substances in smokeless tobacco can be very high.

There are plenty other nasty chemicals in smokeless tobacco, including arsenic, lead and cyanide.

Like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco can cause heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and cancer of the lip, tongue, cheek, throat, stomach and esophagus.

Side effects from chewing or dipping are no fun either. They include cracking and bleeding lips and gums, precancerous mouth sores, tooth abrasion, gum recession, gum and tooth disease, loss of teeth and bone in the jaw and chronic bad breath. Getting that kiss from someone special might also be a casualty of the bad habit.

There are steps you can take to quit:

♦ Think about nicotine replacement products like nicotine gum or a patch.

♦ Try using substitutes like sugarless gum, hard candy, beef jerky, sunflower seeds, shredded coconut, raisins, or dried fruit.

♦ Make a list of all the reasons you want to quit. Keep it with you and look at it often.

♦ Get involved in healthier activities like lifting weights, shooting baskets or swimming.

To truly live well means more than just eating nutritious food and hitting the gym or walking track.

It also means putting an end to unhealthy habits that may seem unbeatable, but the reward is well worth the sacrifice. Just because a habit is hard to break does not mean it cannot be done.

Your doctor can always get you started and help you put tobacco down for good.

Tifani Kinard is the Polk Medical Center Hospital Administrator and Chief Nursing Officer.