Dear Dr. Wallace:

Our family was thrilled when my father stopped smoking cigarettes after being addicted to them for over 20 years! He mostly smoked up to two packs of cigarettes per day, and he even lit up a cigar or two every weekend.

But now, Dad has moved on to smokeless tobacco, which he says is much better and safer for him to use. I don’t like this either, since he still smells smoky and he spits some really ugly, nasty brown juice in a can about every 20 minutes or so. It’s so gross!

Our mom is neither amused nor happy with him, despite the fact that he does not “light up” anymore. She’s been telling him that his “smokeless tobacco” might just be more dangerous than the cigarette habit. Is my mom right about this? I sure wish my dad would quit all forms of tobacco. He always smells like a chimney, and I don’t want him to die from cancer because of his nasty habits.

— Grossed-Out Daughter, via email

Dear Grossed-Out Daughter: Smokeless tobacco is just as dangerous as cigarettes are! The danger of smoking cigarettes has been well-publicized for decades now, but similar dangers of smokeless or “spit” tobacco have been far less well-publicized.

Some tobacco companies are taking advantage of this gap in the public perception about chewing tobacco. As smoking continues to be banned in more and more public places in the United States and many foreign countries, tobacco companies are positioning smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco and “snuff” as alternative ways to engage in tobacco use.

“Tobacco of any kind contains nicotine and other harmful chemicals that are addictive and dangerous,” according to Patrick Carter, M.D., the chief of family medicine at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic in Houston. “It’s a misconception that smokeless tobacco products are any safer than cigarettes. In fact, sometimes these products can be even more addictive, as they generally deliver a higher dose of nicotine. A cigarette has about 1.8 mg of nicotine, but an average dose of snuff has about 3.6 mg and chewing tobacco is 4.6 mg.”

So based upon these excellent studies, I’d say your father is sadly pulling the wool over his own eyes and those of your family, as well. Your mother is right. As the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic states: “When it comes to the dangers of tobacco use, it doesn’t matter whether you smoke it, chew it, or inhale it. There is no safe way to indulge in tobacco use.”

Perhaps your mother can convince your father to read through some of this excellent research when he’s open to the idea.

Write to Dr. Wallace at rwallace@galesburg.net.

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