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Smokeless Is Not Harmless

By Florida Department of Health, Office of Communications

February 12, 2013

Just ask Rick Bender. Some call him “the man without a face.” At the age of 12, he started using spit tobacco, commonly known as chewing tobacco. At 26, he was diagnosed with oral cancer. He underwent several major surgeries and as a result he lost half of his jaw, a third of his tongue, and 25 percent use of his right arm. He almost lost his life.

Real stories of cancer survivors like Rick Bender and the stories of so many who have died from this disease are powerful reminders of the consequences of using smokeless tobacco.

Tobacco Free Florida sat down with Rick Bender. When asked about the effects of using smokeless tobacco, he said:

“You hear this argument from people: ‘Spit tobacco doesn’t hurt anybody but me.’ Well you know what, there is a little bit of truth to that. But the reality of the matter is it doesn’t hurt anybody, except the ones you love the most.”

The Dangers of Smokeless Tobacco

Because these products are smokeless, many underestimate their serious health risks. In fact, while cigarette use continues to decline, smokeless tobacco use has remained rather steady among Florida’s youth.

Using smokeless tobacco can cause oral cancers, which can form within just five years of regular use,i and can cause cancer of the esophagus, pharynx, larynx, stomach, and pancreas.ii It increases the risk of heart attack and stroke,iii and increases the risk of reproductive health problems such as reduced sperm count and abnormal sperm cells for men. Women who use smokeless tobacco may be at an increased risk of  preeclampsia (a condition that may include high blood pressure, fluid retention, and swelling), premature birth, and low birth weight.iv

What better time to raise awareness about these dangerous tobacco products and to help tobacco users quit than during Through With Chew Week? This year, this important health observance takes place Feb. 17–23 and includes the Great American Spit Out on Thursday, Feb. 21.

For more information on smokeless tobacco and resources to quit, visit

i The S.T.O.P. Guide (The Smokeless Tobacco Outreach and Prevention Guide): A Comprehensive Directory of Smokeless Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Resources. Applied Behavioral Science Press, 1997; Hatsukami, D & Severson, H, “Oral Spit Tobacco: Addiction, Prevention and Treatment,” Nicotine & Tobacco Research 1:21–44, 1999

ii National Cancer Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Stockholm Centre of Public Health. Smokeless Tobacco Fact Sheets. Third International Conference on Smokeless Tobacco; Stockholm. September 22–25, 2002

iii Boffetta, P, et al. “Use of smokeless tobacco and risk of myocardial infarction and stroke: systematic review with meta-analysis,” BMJ, 2009; 339 (aug18 2): b3060 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.b3060

iv World Health Organization. Smokeless Tobacco and Some Tobacco-Specific N-Nitrosamines. International Agency for Research on Cancer Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans Vol. 89. Lyon, France: World Health Organization, 2007

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