Tobacco free is what we want to be

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jim Craig, a program director at the Mississippi State Department of Health, started using smokeless tobacco at age 18. Before he knew it, he was hooked. He tried to kick the habit hundreds of times but always fell short. Heart trouble at age 26 motivated him to put tobacco down for what he hoped was the last time, but five years later he was using again. Now at age 49, he has quit for good.

“After I started back at age 31, I tried to quit hundreds of times but for some reason I could not quit for more than a couple of weeks,” Craig said. “My wife works as the human resources director at a hospital in Brookhaven, which was going to become a tobacco-free campus. The hospital provided free prescriptions for Chantix (a medication used to treat tobacco addiction) to employees and their family members who wanted to quit using tobacco, and after hearing of the program, my children asked that I quit.”

The prescription, plus the support of his friends and family, turned out to be exactly what Craig needed to put smokeless tobacco down once and for all. He said that he feels better and is saving money too.

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“Today is day 347 since I quit and I have saved over $1,358 by not buying smokeless tobacco,” he said. “I feel great.”

You may think that smokeless tobacco is less dangerous than cigarettes, but a 2007 study from the University of Minnesota Cancer Center found that smokeless tobacco users had an equal or greater amount of cancer-causing chemicals in their urine samples than cigarette smokers.

Numerous health studies show that smokeless tobacco use can cause cancer of the throat, cheek, gums, lip, jaw and pancreas. It can also lead to pre-cancerous mouth sores called leukoplakia, bone erosion around the roots of the teeth, receding gums, tooth loss and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

There is no safe form of tobacco use.

Quitting can be made easier by calling the MSDH Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-784-8669 (1-800-QUIT-NOW). The program is free. Available from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., callers to the Quitline can speak with health care experts about tobacco’s impact on health, receive advice on successful cessation and, like Jim Craig, get free access to medications that can make quitting easier.

Eliminating tobacco use in Mississippi is a big goal that will require concerted effort from all quarters: health agencies like the MSDH, the Mississippi Tobacco Free Coalition of Adams and Jefferson counties, educators, business owners and private citizens.

To learn how you can join the fight against tobacco, call the Mississippi Tobacco Free Coalition of Adams and Jefferson counties at 601-818-7748.

Paige Dickey is the project director of the Coalition of Adams and Jefferson counties.