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Separating Fact from Fiction to Ditch the Snuff’ for Great American Spit Out at Naval Hospital Bremerton

Separating Fact from Fiction to Ditch the Snuff’ for Great American Spit Out at Naval Hospital Bremerton

Story by Douglas Stutz on 02/22/2019

When it comes to separating fact from fiction, it really does pay to ditch the snuff for better stuff.’

Fact: As a Navy Diver, David Glidewell is well versed in the many demands of his chosen career field.

Fiction: Using smokeless tobacco is healthier than cigarettes.

Fact: As a Navy master chief, David Glidewell has for years set the professional example to handle arduous underway responsibilities from the Arctic to the tropics.

Fiction: Smokeless tobacco won’t adversely affect mission readiness.

Fact: As a Navy husband and father, David Glidewell gave his family and himself a special gift that directly impacts their quality of life.

Fiction: Smokeless tobacco can be used anywhere because there’s no smoke to bother anyone.

Glidewell made the decision to ditch the snuff for better stuff,’ the Great American Spit Out 2019 theme, which helps to highlight his decision to stop using smokeless tobacco.

The Great American Spit Out, held on Feb. 21, 2019, is an Department of Defense on-going educational campaign tailored specifically for service members to give up smokeless tobacco dip and chew – products.

“The Great American Spit Out is important because it give dippers the motivation and a reason to try something they have been putting off. It takes, on average, four to seven serious tries to quit successfully long term. Even if someone has tried before, trying again is the best thing they can do to avoid health issues like high blood pressure, loss of teeth, bad breath, tumors and mouth sores, and the worst thing, oral cancer,” said Patrick W. Graves, Naval Hospital Bremerton Tobacco Cessation Facilitator.

Glidewell had more than one reason, as well as added motivation to quit the spit.’

“My wife never liked the habit, and I know it used to give me bad breath. Plus, I’d leave spit cans all over the place. So on our anniversary, giving up chew was a gift to her,” said Glidewell, a northern California native who estimated that he used smokeless tobacco products for over 30 years.

“I started when I was 13 years old, back when a can of dip was just 20 cents,” continued Glidewell. “I thought it would be cool to act more grownup. Over time, it just became a normal thing to do.”

Glidewell is not alone. In fact, according to Graves, smokeless tobacco use has increased in the military, with service members usually dipping 10 times more that the general population due to deployments and other smoking restrictions.

“I made my first real attempt to quit about seven years ago. I quit for a year. Then went on deployment and started back up,” related Glidewell.

Data compiled by the Department of Defense indicates smokeless tobacco is used by approximately one-fifth of 18- to 24-year-old military males which is twice the national average despite that fact that chewing tobacco is not a safe alternative to smoking. The body absorbs 3 to 4 times more nicotine, making it potentially more addictive than cigarettes.

“I did begin to worry about my health. Plus, just the grossness of it all added up,” Glidewell said.

Graves notes that as a whole, Navy and Marine Corps personnel tend to be better informed than the general public about the inherent dangers of tobacco usage. But getting the information out is only half the struggle. It’s up to the individual, by their action and behavior, to use that information when needed.

“We might know more but due to our demographics, we also tend to smoke and dip more than our civilian counterparts,” said Graves. “It’s always been a cultural thing in the service. That is gradually changing. The irony with using smokeless tobacco is that it’s such a contradictory habit to a service member making the effort to maintain their readiness, training, physical fitness and be mission ready. Dipping and chewing negates that and takes away from all the gains.”

Among the reasons why using smokeless tobacco impacts a user’s personal health – along with negatively impacting mission readiness – are decreased muscle strength; decreased visual acuity, especially night vision; decreased wound healing; decreased stamina and increased injuries; decreased mental acuity; even reduced ability to deal with stress; and erectile dysfunction.

If there’s a front line in the ongoing struggle to deal with the impact of smokeless tobacco, the Navy Dental Corps is helping to lead the charge for change on the chew.

“As part of every active duty member’s annual dental exam, in addition to looking at the teeth, a thorough screening of oral soft tissues is conducted. This will allow a greater chance for detection of any suspicious pre-cancerous lesions before they become a problem. It also allows tooth decay and gum recession to be addressed and treated in their earlier stages. Smokeless tobacco can irritate gum tissue causing it to recede, or pull away from the teeth. Severe recession can expose the roots of the teeth leading to increased sensitivity and risk of tooth decay. Smokeless tobacco also often has sugar added to enhance flavor. This added sugar also puts the user at an increased risk of tooth decay,” explained Cmdr. Walter Volinski, NHB senior dental executive.

Dental services at NHB, Branch Health Clinic Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Branch Health Clinic Bangor, and Branch Health Clinic Everett are proactive in educating and reminding those they care for on the health risks associated with smokeless tobacco.

“Most often, users of smokeless tobacco will develop a white, thick, wrinkly patch in the area where they place the dip. This is due to a layer of white keratin forming in reaction to the irritating effect of the tobacco, and is equivalent to a callus on one’s hand for example. While not truly a pre-cancerous lesion, these white patches according to extensive studies are nearly always benign and will generally resolve in a few weeks with discontinuation of placing the dip in that area,” Volinski said.

Volinski notes that signs and symptoms which might indicate oral cancer include irritation such as tenderness, burning, or a sore throat that does not go away, numbness or tenderness anywhere in the mouth or lips, development of a lump inside the mouth, color changes to oral soft tissues, difficulty with chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving the tongue or jaw, and any changes in the way the teeth fit together.

“Every time I got a cold sore, I was thinking, what if this is some cancer sign? I do have better results at the dentist. My gums are in much better shape. Finally getting a good, clean bill of health from sitting in that dental chair felt good,” added Glidewell.

“Smokeless tobacco is even more powerfully addictive than smoking. The nicotine content of one can of dip is equal to three packs of cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco is a dangerous concept with definite health risks,” said Graves. “When a person puts chewing tobacco into their mouth, they are instantly exposed to significant dangers such as oral cancer, pancreatic cancer, esophagus cancer, stomach cancer and colon cancer. A dip of chew has 28 cancer-causing carcinogens.”

Graves encourages anyone who is thinking of quitting cigarettes or smokeless tobacco to contact their primary care doctor, unit/ship/boat corpsman, NHB’s Tobacco Cessation Facilitator office at (360) 475-4818, or the DoD website at http://www.ucanquit2.org/

“It’s still popular. I tell my guys and have told others that there’s alternatives out there to dipping/chewing. It was extremely difficult to quit. I did it just out of habit. It was an automatic part of my routine. I’d get up and get a dip,” remembered Glidewell.

Fiction: smokeless tobacco doesn’t impact anyone but the user.

Fact: “It finally sank in that my daughter even had issues just sharing a cup with me. I want to be here for my grandkids and make my wife happier,” Glidewell said.

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