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What are the health risks of smokeless tobacco?

5:36 PM, Oct 25, 2011   |    comments
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By Kay Quinn Healthbeat Reporter

St. Louis (KSDK) - Smokeless tobacco has been banned in Minor League Baseball, there are calls to ban it in the majors, and just last week congress made an appeal to players not to use it in the World Series.

In this week's 8 Ways to Prevent Cancer segment, we look at the health risks of chewing tobacco.

It's sometimes perceived as a safer alternative to cigarettes, but there are at least 28 ingredients in smokeless tobacco that cause cancer. There's been a 36 percent increase in use by high school boys since 2003.

Today, 15 percent of all high school boys use it.

"Tobacco has nicotine in it," said Dr. Laura Bierut, a professor of psychology at Washington University School of Medicine and co-director of the outpatient psychiatry clinic. "Whether you smoke tobacco or use smokeless tobacco it is addictive and it's equally addictive regardless of the way you use it."

Addictive and deadly. Lung cancer is less common, but rates of mouth, tongue and esophageal cancer are high.

In fact, pre-cancerous changes can be seen in users long before a tumor appears.

"There's problems with the gums, problems with the teeth," said Dr. Bierut, "so not only is there cancer, but you lose your teeth, you have inflammation of your gums, and it's so important to avoid these types of cancers and problems."

Smokeless tobacco has been linked to baseball for more than 100 years, and in spite of the dangers, there's an on-going debate on whether to ban it from the sport.

In the meantime, appeals to players not to use it, like the one that came at the start of the World Series, are an attempt to send a strong message to young fans.

"Most of these products start being used in the teenaged years," said Dr. Bierut, "so part of the problem is that teenagers are becoming addicted to it, but then it continues on into the 20s and 30s."


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