Alberta fights chewing tobacco myth

The Alberta government is launching a campaign to get chewing tobacco users to stop their habit.

Alberta, with 10 percent of the nation's population, consumes 40 percent of the chewing tobacco sold in Canada.

Alberta's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (AADAC) says it is fighting the myth that chewing tobacco is safer than smoking cigarettes.

The new campaign will include a TV spot featuring Edmonton Oiler hockey player Jason Chimera and the line:

"Is it any safer to jump out of an eight-storey building than it is a 20- storey building?"

Former CFL great Tom Wilkinson switched from smoking to chewing tobacco 35 years ago. Back in 1968 Wilkinson was the pitch man for Skoal.

"At least with chewing I'm not hurting other people around me," says Wilkinson. "It's the lesser of two evils."

AADAC says that's the kind of attitude it's trying to counter. The other battle front will come from tobacco firms pointing to scientific evidence that smokeless tobacco has two per cent of the risks of cigarette smoking.

Studies backed by U.S. Tobacco

One of the proponents of smokeless tobacco is Dr. Brad Rodu, an oral pathologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Rodu says smokeless tobacco carries no risk of respiratory disease and less risk of mouth and lung cancers.

"I think once consumers are aware of the differential risks between smoking and smokeless tobacco, the transition will be overwhelmingly from smoking to smokeless," says Rodu who is part of a campaign of "harm reduction."

'All of a sudden I got really light-headed' smokeless tobacco user trying to quit
As it turns out, Rodu's research has been partly paid by U.S. Tobacco, the company that makes Copenhagen and Skoal, since 1999 . Rodu points out much of his research was done before that and insists the company has no bearing on his results.

Doctors say they'd never suggest chewing tobacco as an alternative to smoking.

Edmonton dentist Steven Patterson says he's seen enough mouth lesions and cancers to know chewing tobacco is as risky as cigarettes.

"Smokeless tobacco has very much the same cancer causing agents in it that the smoke tobacco does. You're absorbing it through the cheeks and through your mouth into your tissue rather than smoking it, breathing it," says Patterson.

Patterson says smokeless tobacco packs a big punch and it's hard to quit.

When Wilkinson tried to quit, he thought he was having a stroke.

"All of a sudden I got really light headed, the room started spinning," describes Wilkinson.

Doctors say he was experiencing powerful withdrawal symptoms so strong that Wilkinson says he won't try to quit his habit again.