Blame the iconic Alberta cowboy.
He pulls his horse steady, readjusts his hat, reaches around to the well-worn circle in the back pocket of his Wrangler jeans, removes a plastic container and then… places a big, black plug of chew under his front lip.
The Prairies have a higher rate of smokeless tobacco use than in other parts of Canada, with the highest users being rural males, aboriginals and athletes.
Despite its sometimes romanticized rodeo image, smokeless tobacco, which includes both chew and snuff, is anything but romantic. It contains more than 3,000 chemicals, including 28 that are known to cause cancer. Most commonly, smokeless tobacco users get cancers in the mouth (lip, tongue, and cheek, floor and roof of the mouth) and the throat. Before the actual cancer appears, frequent users might develop leukoplakia – white, leathery sores where tobacco is held in the mouth. Leukoplakia appears on the cheeks, gums or tongue and these sores can turn into cancer.
Besides upping cancer risk, smokeless tobacco also causes discoloured and damaged teeth and bad breath. These are all good reasons to pass up the chew or, if you’re already dipping, to talk to your doctor about quitting.