“So I failed in quitting chewing, big deal. I’m not going to feel guilty or be hard on myself. I mean, it is only chewing–it is not like a crime punishable by death.” I had to refrain from laughing at this statement. It was seriously quoted to me by a clinic participant who failed to abstain from chewing for even two days. He had the same old excuses of new job, family pressures, too many other changes going on.
But to say that chewing isn’t a crime punishable by death–that was news to me. According to the United Nations, tobacco kills 4.9 million users per year worldwide. While we know that these people were killed by tobacco, it is hard to classify these deaths. Were they murders, suicides or accidents?
When examining the influence of the tobacco industry, one is tempted to call all tobacco related deaths murder. The tobacco industry uses manipulative advertising trying to make chewing and smoking appear harmless, sexy, sophisticated, and adult. These tactics help manipulate adults and kids into experimenting with this highly addictive substance. The tobacco industry knows that if they can just get people started, they can hook them on tobacco and milk them for thousands of dollars over the users’ lifetimes.
The tobacco institute always contradicts the research of all credible medical institutions that have unanimously stated that chewing and smoking are lethal. The tobacco institute tries to make people believe that all these attacks on tobacco are lies. If the medical profession was going to mislead the public about tobacco, it would be by minimizing the dangers, not exaggerating them. The medical profession has a vested interest in people continuing to use tobacco. After all, the more people chew and smoke, the more work there is in treating serious and deadly diseases. But the medical profession recognizes its professional and moral obligation to help people be healthier. On the other hand, the tobacco industry’s only goal is to get people to chew or smoke, no matter what the cost.
It could be argued that a chewing death is suicide. While the tobacco industry may dismiss the dangers, any chewer with even average intelligence knows that chew is bad for health but continues to chew anyway. But I do not believe in classifying most of the chewing deaths as suicidal. Although a chewer knows the risk and still doesn’t stop, it is not that he is trying to kill himself. He chews because he doesn’t know how to stop.
A chewing related death is more accidental than suicidal. For while the chewer may die today, his death was in great part due to his first dips twenty or more years ago. When he started chewing the dangers were unknown. Society made chewing acceptable, if not mandatory in certain groups. Not only did he not know the danger, but also he was unaware of the addictive nature of nicotine. So by the time the dangers were known, he was hooked into what he believed was a permanent way of life. Any chewer can quit, but unfortunately many don’t know how.
Whatever the classification–murder, suicide or accident–the end result is the same. You still have a chance, you are alive, and you know how to quit. Take advantage of this knowledge. Don’t become a chewing statistic.
© Joel Spitzer 1983
The original article has been modified to be more relevant for dippers and chewers.