MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - -- Millions of Americans struggle with how to overcome tobacco use in their daily lives. For many, Feb. 21 marked the beginning of their journey to break the chains of addiction and lead a tobacco-free life with the Great American Spit Out, a day where awareness of the dangers of smokeless tobacco was front and center.
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune Health Promotion and Wellness steadily provides resources to service members and their families in an effort to make Camp Lejeune a tobacco-free installation.
Many assume smokeless tobacco is healthier than smoking. John Swett, a health educator and tobacco cessation program coordinator with Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune’s Health Promotion and Wellness, wants to dissuade tobacco users from that perception.
“People think dipping is safer, but it’s not,” said Swett. “Two cans of dip a week is the chemical equivalent of a four pack a day smoker, and I have Marines who use a can a day.”
Many see the connection between smoking and bad health, but have difficulty seeing the adverse effects of dip. For instance, a person who sees a slip in stamina resulting from a decrease in lung function when smoking may quit and use smokeless tobacco instead, said Swett.
Rather than a solution, smokeless tobacco brings its own slew of issues. By the time the effects are seen much of the damage is already done.
“You’re not exempt,” said Swett. “Just because you are tall, skinny and fit, doesn’t mean you’re not already developing problems. You can’t see the destruction of your inner organs when you look in the mirror, and by the time the effects of tobacco show on the outside, you are already seriously damaged.”
Smokeless tobacco can be a nightmare for the body inside and out. According to the National Cancer Institute it affects appearance with white leathery patches inside of the mouth, stained teeth and bad breath. It can cause gum recession which increase your risk of cavities on tooth roots and make teeth sensitive.
It also contains 28 carcinogens that can lead to oral, pancreatic and esophageal cancer. The National Cancer Institute warns oral cancer can be extensive and disfiguring, and is one of the hardest cancers to treat. Half of those who develop oral cancer do not survive.
Swett witnessed the effects of tobacco first hand. He saw three patients in their twenties require jaw reconstruction, and a 21-year-old patient with erectile dysfunction due to damage to blood vessels and nerves from tobacco use.
When faced with the consequences, they all regret using tobacco, said Swett.
“Are you willing to play Russian roulette?” said Swett. “If you’re willing to play it, you have to be willing to face the consequences. No matter what they are. Nobody forces you to smoke or dip; you make the decision. If you are not willing to play the game, you have to change the way you do business. You can still have a long, fun life by doing the right thing.”
Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune’s Tobacco Cessation Program provides individual counseling and classes to help those seeking to kick the habit. For more information call 451-3712.