An Ounce of Prevention

Risks and Benefits

In medicine we always weigh whether the benefits of a medication outweigh the risks or side effects before prescribing it.
All of us often do this mental exercise, sometimes not so consciously, when making many decisions in life. Take smokeless tobacco as an example.

I’m sure most of you have seen the picture of the young man who had a big portion of his jaw removed due to tobacco induced cancer. You may have thought about it when you first tried chew tobacco or each time you use it.

Let’s look at the benefits and the risks.

People describe their responses to the nicotine in the tobacco as relaxing, energizing and pleasurable.

Smokeless tobacco is not inhaled into the lungs and therefore does not lead to chronic bronchitis, emphysema and lung cancer.

Without the smoke, it does not hurt those around the chewer.

Sounds good, right?

So let’s look at the risks before making a decision whether to start or keep using smokeless tobacco.

The nicotine in the tobacco is a stimulant which can increase heart rate and blood pressure. Long-term use puts more work on the heart which can lead to heart attacks and eventually heart failure. With higher blood pressure, tiny blood vessels in the brain can rupture leading to a stroke.

Nicotine is an addictive substance, meaning if you want to quit you will go through withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, irritation, nervousness and an inability to concentrate. It can be a frustrating, expensive, and frequently a futile effort to quit.

Tobacco contains 23 cancer-causing chemicals which can cause serious disease in the mouth, esophagus, larynx and tongue.

Dip and chew tobacco can make the gums pull away from the teeth causing tooth loss. White patches can develop on the gums which can lead to oral cancer. Seventy percent of regular users have mouth sores that may lead to cancer.

Thursday, February 25, is the Great American Spit Out to encourage people to stop using smokeless tobacco.

To find help in quitting, call the West Virginia Hotline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).

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