Most parents are unaware that tobacco companies are using rock music to find a new way into children’s hearts. The newest marketing ploy is to contract with popular, youth-oriented rock musicians to participate in a “concert event” that introduces a new generation to “extreme” interactive games, merchandise booths and free spit tobacco products, warn dental experts meeting at the Academy of General Dentistry’s 45th annual meeting.
Dentists fear that if the current attempts to initiate spit tobacco use at an early age continue, the oral cancer rate in young people will increase dramatically. Kids who use spit tobacco products are 4 to 6 times more likely to develop oral cancer than non-users and tobacco juice-related cancers can form within five years of regular use.
Alternative concert tours that book line-ups of high-profile alternative bands have proven successful in getting the attention of teenagers. This format is widely used by promoters to reach the teenage market.
“Since music appeals to kids, tobacco companies use music as another way to get spit tobacco products in the hands of underaged kids,” says general dentist and Academy member Paul Bussman, DMD. “The free samples and peer pressure present at these concerts gives tobacco companies an excellent opportunity to initiate an addictive habit.”
Dentists are patients’ first line of defense against the adverse effects of tobacco use and nicotine addiction stemming from spit tobacco, cigarettes and cigars. Dentists routinely screen for oral cancer and can help patients with tobacco cessation programs.
“Starter tobacco products usually have artificial flavors, such as cherry, and sugars added to mask the bitter taste of tobacco, and buffered so little nicotine is absorbed into the blood stream,” says Robert Mecklenburg, DDS, MPH, dental coordinator, Smoking and Tobacco Control Program of the National Cancer Institute. “There is no doubt that these products are targeted towards teens. Once they are addicted, they move up to products that release more nicotine to get their ‘fix’ and dispense with candy flavored products to seek that real tobacco flavor,” adds Dr. Mecklenburg.
The Centers for Disease Control report 20 percent of U.S. high school boys are current spit tobacco users and 25 percent of white high-school boys are current users. Kids develop a strong tolerance to spit tobacco faster than cigarettes, which increases their use.
Other facts on spit tobacco and kids:
- Among high school seniors who have ever used smokeless tobacco, almost three-fourths began by the ninth grade
- Between 1970 and 1991, males 65 and older (12.7%) were almost six times as likely as those ages 18-24 (2.2%) to use spit tobacco regularly. By 1991, however, young males (8.4%) were 50 percent more likely than the oldest ones (5.6%) to be regular spit tobacco users.
- Smokeless tobacco causes gum disease, which can lead to bone and tooth loss
- The use of spit tobacco can lead to oral cancer, gum disease, and nicotine addiction, and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack
- Spit tobacco causes leukoplakia, a disease of the mouth characterized by white patches and oral lesions on the cheeks, gums, and/or tongue. Leukoplakia, which can lead to oral cancer, occurs in over half of all users in the first six months of beginning regular use. Studies have found that 70 to 78 percent of spit tobacco users have oral lesions.
The Academy of General Dentistry supports the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in its efforts to regulate tobacco products and restrict children’s access to tobacco products.