Did you know that northwestern Pennsylvania has a higher percentage of persons who use smokeless tobacco than other parts of the state?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately three percent of adults in the United States use smokeless tobacco and two percent of Pennsylvanians have used a smokeless tobacco product at least once.
In northwestern Pennsylvania, the percentage can reach 15 percent.
Warren County has one of the highest percentages, according to CDC data, with 21 percent of its citizens using smokeless tobacco. That's seven times the national average.
"In Pennsylvania, the last survey in 2006-2007 concluded 1.9 percent of students in grades six through eighth and 6.9 percent of high school students, grades nine through 12 used smokeless tobacco," said Chris Snyder, alcohol, tobacco and other drugs prevention specialist at Beacon Light Behavioral Health.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Pennsylvanians ages 18 to 44 are "significantly more likely to have used smokeless tobacco than those 45 years and older."
Some of the issues which could factor into such a high percentage for Warren County, said Snyder, "It could be we are in a rural setting and many people do not know the harmful effects that occur with the use of smokeless tobacco."
Shannon Eckels, tobacco control coordinator for Adagio Health, said another factor is the Clean Indoor Air Act signed last year by Gov. Ed Rendell.
"Some smokers are switching from cigarette use to smokeless tobacco," said Eckels. "This percentage has the potential to go up."
Smokeless tobacco is far from harmless, said Snyder, adding, "In many cases it is actually worse because it does the damage to you a lot faster. It is absorbed faster into the body at a higher dose."
Smokeless tobacco has a variety of names including spit tobacco, snus, chew, snuff, pinch, plug or dip, and just because its smokeless, doesn't mean there aren't health risks linked to regular use.
"Smokeless tobacco can be highly addictive," said Eckels. "In addition to increased risk for oral cancer, smokeless tobacco adversely affects the heart, stomach, intestinal tract and other important body systems. It's important to know that smokeless tobacco is not harmless."
According to the Mayo Clinic website on smokeless tobacco, the sugar and irritants in chewing tobacco and other forms of smokeless tobacco can cause the user's gums to pull away from his or her teeth where the chew is placed. Over time, gum disease can develop, as well as tooth loss.
The website also notes that oral cancer, which includes cancers of the mouth, throat, cheek, gums, lips and tongue, is increased with use.
For persons using smokeless tobacco and wanting to quit, help is available, said Snyder.
"For those who haven't made the plunge yet, our office at Beacon Light conducts a program for both cigarette smokers as well as smokeless tobacco users," said Snyder, who runs the Freedom from Smoking program held at the Warren YMCA. "We are finishing up the first session in March and will be starting a new one sometime in April."
The adult smoking cessation program runs for eight weeks and encompasses smoking habits and personal smoking history for each individual, stress management techniques, healthy habits and a final quit day.
"We don't ask them to quit on the first day," said Snyder. "We take a look at their habits and see where they are coming from first."
Snyder said the program has been successful with more than 30 adults going through the program in the last year and a half.
"Other smoking cessation websites and help lines are available," said Snyder.
My Last Dip (www.mylastdip.com) is an online resource to help individuals between the ages of 14 and 25 quit using smokeless tobacco. Other resources include 1-800-QUIT-NOW and the Quit Net at www.quitnet.com.