North Florida Teens Suffer from High Rates in Smokeless Tobacco Use

Special to ECB Publishing, Inc.

According to the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) and the Florida Youth Tobacco Survey, 5.4 percent of Florida high school students admitted using smokeless tobacco products compared to 5.6 percent in 2004.

While the rate has gone down across the state, some counties still struggle with smokeless tobacco. Madison, Suwanee and Wakulla counties have the highest rates in the state according to  Jefferson County also made the list.

Tobacco Free Florida Bureau Chief, Shannon Hughes provided some insight as to why the state is suffering. “Smokeless tobacco use has long been linked with rural life and in fact, there is a significant difference in prevalence rates by geography,” said Hughes.

Hughes suggested that many people are unaware or underestimate the consequences of using these products. reports that nine out of 10 smokers, started when they were teenagers. They also reported that tobacco companies spend more than $700 million in marketing and advertising, in order to replace the 1,200 people killed daily from tobacco use.

Programs like Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) strive to educate and motivate young people against the glamorized tobacco industry.

Aron Shepard is the head football coach at Jefferson County Middle/High School. Shepard also serves as the SWAT coordinator and felt that the program overall is great for the students.

“We need things like that [SWAT]. When I got here, there wasn’t anything about tobacco or drug use and I grew up with DARE and drug intervention programs.”

FDOH reports that 28 carcinogens are found in smokeless tobacco. A carcinogen is any substance that has the potential to cause and/or promote cancer in living tissues. Smokeless tobacco users have an 80 percent higher risk of oral cancer and a 60 percent higher risk of esophageal and pancreatic cancer compared to their non-smoking counterparts. It can also lead to many oral problems such as tooth decay, tooth loss or even gum disease. The use of smokeless tobacco products can also cause stroke or heart attacks.

Dr. Terrell Davis, Assistant Principal of Jefferson County Middle/High School offered a solution to combat the use of smokeless tobacco products in teenagers.

“The best idea would be we have to get more into a self fitness. If we put ourselves in a situation where we start treating our bodies like utopias then we’ll be in a better place.”