Talking about Smokeless Tobacco

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“Talking about Smokeless Tobacco,” Ensign, Aug. 1995, 59–60

Talking about Smokeless Tobacco

Over the past decades, Church leaders have counseled us to be vigilant in fortifying our homes and our youth against temptations of the world. Certainly many problems threaten our quest for safe family havens. Currently one of those problems is smokeless tobacco. The Apostle Paul counseled us to care for our bodies: “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God?” (1 Cor. 6:19.) Because our bodies are sacred, we have a responsibility to care for them and to teach our children to do the same.

The Lord said to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “In consequence of the evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom” (D&C 89:4). The Lord went on to identify tobacco, among other things, as being “not for the body” (D&C 89:8), and he concluded with naming great promises of health, wisdom, and protection for “all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments” (see D&C 89:18–21).

In addition to teaching our children the vital importance of trusting in the Lord’s promises and taking to heart the counsel of Church leaders, knowing some facts about smokeless tobacco can help us as we prepare our children to resist peer pressure and to make good choices concerning their health and well-being.

Smokeless tobacco comes in two different forms: chewing tobacco and snuff. Though chewing tobacco isn’t widely used, a recent study by Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., an investment house, reported that the use of snuff is increasing, especially among young people.1 According to a 1992 report by the U.S. Surgeon General, the average age for young people to be introduced to snuff is nine and a half years old.

The snuff market has been carefully designed to move the user from less potent products to those with more strength. Flavorings such as cherry or wintergreen are added to make snuff seem more attractive to children. Also, some youth consider the outline of a snuff can in the back pocket of denim jeans a macho symbol. Pressure for youth to begin using snuff can be very intense.

Tobacco contains many harmful compounds, nicotine being the most potent and addictive, that are bound up within the plant structure. However, nicotine must be released from the plant for the body to absorb it and be affected by it. When tobacco is fermented to make snuff, ammonia is one of the by-products. The ammonia raises the pH level and makes the tobacco alkaline, which makes more nicotine available in the snuff. Chemicals such as sodium carbonate and ammonium carbonate are added during the fermentation process to raise the pH level even more. In addition, fermentation can continue on the shelf even after the product has been sent to the stores. All of these processes make snuff highly addictive, and it is an extremely difficult habit to break.

Using smokeless tobacco can also greatly damage soft and hard tissues in and around the mouth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 1993 there were thirty thousand new cases of oral cancer in the United States and eight thousand deaths resulting from such cases. Although 75 percent of these deaths were linked to cigarette smoking, smokeless tobacco users are four times more likely to develop oral cancer than nonusers, and cancers of the gum and inner cheek lining occur fifty times more frequently in people who use smokeless tobacco than in those who don’t. Smokeless tobacco used during pregnancy is particularly stressful to the unborn infant.

By discussing these things with children and by stressing the importance of obeying the Word of Wisdom and keeping our bodies pure, parents can warn their children about the dangers, both physical and spiritual, of using any form of addictive substances, including smokeless tobacco. Thus doubly armed with the hard facts of the dangers of tobacco and with strengthened spiritual conviction and resolve, our children will be more likely to make good choices and to merit the Lord’s promises in D&C 89:18–21:

“They shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;

“And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;

“And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.

“And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them.”—Bruce H. Woolley, Department of Food, Science, and Nutrition, Brigham Young University

Photography by Maren Younce Mecham