Federal campaign aims to help military members drop chewing tobacco

Posted at 9:19 AM, Feb 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-12 09:47:55-05

When you hear about the Great American Spit Out, you probably imagine a massive contest among the country’s top expectorators. And you’d be way off.

The annual event is actually a campaign aimed at helping United States military members quit using chewing tobacco. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense, the Great American Spit Out encourages service members to stop dipping for 24 hours on Feb. 19.

Organizers behind the campaign are trying to hammer home with dip users that their habit isn’t a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes.

“Smokeless tobacco contains three to four times more nicotine than cigarettes,” said Paul Fitzpatrick, program director for Quit Tobacco, the official name of the group behind the campaign.

A release from the group cites National Institute of Health research stating that holding chewing tobacco in your mouth for 30 minutes gives users the nicotine equivalent to three cigarettes.

But why aim the campaign specifically at military members, rather than the American public at large?

According to statistics, smokeless tobacco is much more prevalent among service members than civilians. Numbers compiled by the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center show that in 2011, 12.8 percent of surveyed U.S. military members said they had used dip in the past 30 days, compared to just 2.7 percent of civilian adults.

Among male military members who were between 18 and 25 years old, the number of dip users more than doubled to 31 percent. Among the different service branches, Marines showed the highest percentage of smokeless tobacco users, at 32 percent.

According to the report, the U.S. Department of Defense spends more than $1.6 billion on tobacco-related medical care annually.

Perhaps a similar cessation support program to the Great American Spit Out should be designed for high school students. Nationwide, more than one in 10 high school students use smokeless tobacco, according to a 2012 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

The Federal Trade Commission indicates the smokeless tobacco industry generates about $3 billion annually.

Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.