My earliest memories of my grandfather always include him chewing tobacco. When I was young, I didn’t understand what it was; as far as I knew he just liked to spit brown-colored stuff into a cup. He began like most: in high school. Not much has changed in that respect since his time. According to a survey done in 2012 by the American Cancer Society, 11% of male high school students chew tobacco. Many see it as a “safer” alternative to smoking cigarettes, when it is just as dangerous. Use of chewing tobacco can lead to many cancers including those of the stomach, pancreas, esophagus, tongue, mouth, cheek, throat and gums. Not to mention it gives you horribly bad breath and will stain your teeth so badly that brushing won’t even come close to helping.
Not only did my grandpa chew, but my father also chewed up until the end of my elementary school years. After I learned what dip could do, I did everything I could to stop him. At a very young age, I would hide his cans of chewing tobacco, sometimes even throwing them away. He didn’t really approve of this, so later I took up another method: I would write notes such as “please don’t chew me” or “do you want cancer?” and stick them to his tins of dip. I like to think that over time my escapades wore him down, but I think he finally realized he just needed to stop. It was costing him too much money and wasn’t worth the risk.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, a person who chews an average of two cans of dip per week spends about $300 per year. Those who chew a can per day spend up to $1,100. I’m sure anyone could find something better to do with $300 or $1,100 than put cancer-causing chemicals in their mouth. My father in particular decided to use the money he’d saved by quitting and take the family to Disney World. I had got what I wanted and I was in the land of Mickey Mouse, so I couldn’t complain.
Quitting chewing wasn’t easy for my father though. Many who attempt to quit chewing try to use gum or sunflower seeds to mimic the need to have something in their mouth. My father did this, but also added more food into his diet to combat his craving. This led to overeating and a significant amount of weight gain. Although it was hard, he was glad he kicked the habit in the end. And I was glad, too. The cups filled with brown spit always grossed me out, and I no longer had such a strong fear of losing my dad.
My grandpa was to convince. He had been chewing tobacco since the age of 18, along with many of his friends. When my dad attempted to get him to quit like he had, my grandpa laughed and said “good luck with that”. A man of strong opinions, he wasn’t about to let my dad tell him what to do. Thankfully, however, he has a soft spot for his grandchildren.
My freshman year, the Health and Wellness unit on chewing tobacco scared me out of my mind. The thought of losing my grandpa made me miserable, but after 45 years of chewing tobacco, his odds of stopping weren’t good. The next visit that I saw him I begged him to stop, and something in my words resonated with him: he began to wean off his daily can and attempted to chew less and less. The next time I visited him he had completely stopped. However, he had a horrible time quitting. He would get extreme headaches when he had cravings, and chewing gum could only help so much.
In the end though, my father and grandpa defeated their addiction. My dad hasn’t chewed in six years, and my grandpa in two. Unfortunately, many others don’t win against their addiction. Tobacco is responsible for one out of every five deaths in the United States, which adds up to about 443,000 deaths per year. So for those of you high school boys who dip or are thinking about trying it: don’t.
It’s not worth the money, risk and it’s just plain nasty. I promise no girl is going to want to kiss your tobacco breath.