Surprising Facts about Smokeless Tobacco and Children
When asked to picture a dip user, what do you see? Maybe an athletic and muscular big league pitcher standing on the mound ready to throw the last pitch in a no-hitter? Perhaps a burly construction worker spitting as he lifts a fifty pound bag of cement? Or what about a dashing country-western singer with a dip ring permanently imprinted on his back pocket? Well, the facts about smokeless tobacco actually paint another picture.
Now imagine this: a gawky thirteen-year-old whose body hasn’t quite grown to proportion. His braces flash when he smiles, and he’s finally getting his acne under control. He’s not near old enough to drive, but his older brother buys him his dip so that he can look cool around his friends.
While the use of cigarettes amongst teenagers has dropped significantly since the nineties, smokeless tobacco use has remained constant—hovering at around 15% of kids. And some surveys have even found that this number is rising: a 36% increase in 12th grade boys and a 34% increase in 10th grade boys. These numbers have raised attention, leading to the surgeon general dubbing the problem a “pediatric epidemic.”
With all of the new laws regulating smoking in public places, dip provides a more “socially-friendly” way to obtain nicotine. But because dipping is less visible than smoking, it’s also more appealing to teenagers. Hiding dip use from parents and teachers is easier than hiding a smoking habit. Dip doesn’t make them smell like smoke, which their parents would likely detect. It’s also less expensive than cigarettes, making it more affordable to teenagers on strict budgets.
Significantly, dip has always been seen as a “masculine” product (over 90% of smokeless tobacco users are men). And like all teenagers, young men long to become more grown up than they are. Advertisers show hyper-masculine men using their products, enticing younger viewers to adopt the habit to feel more grown up and attractive to the opposite sex. However, the facts about smokeless tobacco show a different persona.
Advertisers also market their products in a way that appeals to the younger generation. Sports events, car races, and rodeos are common venues where smokeless tobacco is promoted. Because teens see active, muscular men using and promoting dip, they don’t associate the products with negative health effects. Instead, it appears as a safe alternative to smoking. Major league baseball players dip, and they’re fit and healthy—why shouldn’t I? It’s our job as parents to make our kids aware of the facts about smokeless tobacco.
Educating Your Teen on the Facts about Smokeless Tobacco
Discussing the facts about smokeless tobacco with your kids before they start dipping is one of the best ways to avoid the problem altogether. Teenagers may have even more trouble coping with withdrawal symptoms than adults, and quitting is never easy.
Try approaching your kids in terms they understand. The long-term effects of dip are important to discuss, but they may not feel the urgency that you do. (Were you afraid of cancer when you were twelve? Probably not.) Instead, try stressing the effects on their appearance, such as brown teeth, bad breath, and oral sores. Teens want to appear attractive to the opposite sex, so pointing out how dip can make them less attractive will likely have a greater effect on them.
The facts about smokeless tobacco also show that effects we associate with older men are also a danger for youths. A picture is worth a thousand words, so try showing them images of young men who have died or had their jaws removed from the effects of smokeless tobacco. (For example, see Sean Marsee’s story or Gruen Von Behrens’ story.)
If you’re afraid that your teen is dipping, talk to your dentist before your child’s next visit. He or she can often spot the warning signs and provide you with even more facts about smokeless tobacco.