Sean Marsee was a track star at Talihina High School in Talihina, Oklahoma and had intended to join the Army on July 14, 1983. But in May 1983 his doctor found a malignancy on the youth’s tongue which led to surgery. The cancer continued to spread to his neck and two additional operations removed a large part of his jaw and neck. Sean was a regular user of tobacco snuff. He died on February 25, 1984.
Last month, Sean’s mother filed a $37 million lawsuit against the U.S. Tobacco Company in federal court in Oklahoma. City charging that her son developed the cancer because he used the Greenwich, Connecticut company’s Copenhagen brand of tobacco snuff for over six years. Betty Marsee, a registered nurse, said that “If Sean had known how dangerous this product was. I know he never would have touched it. As an athlete he was very concerned with taking care of his body. I asked him many times to stop using the product because I thought it was dangerous. But he always told me that if it really was dangerous there would be a warning on the package like cigarettes have.”
The consumption of smokeless tobacco products is growing rapidly, especially among young people. Responding to penetrating advertisements by tobacco companies featuring athletes and other celebrities, youths and adults are taking up the addiction. A study in Eugene, Oregon found that 9% of the seventh graders, 19% of the ninth graders and 23% of the tenth graders surveyed said they used smokeless tobacco every day. This level of use exceeded the prevalence of cigarette smoking among these children. Even higher percentages were found in a study covering youngsters in Bogalusa, Louisiana. Compared with a similar survey completed in 1979, the authors found a three to six fold increase in the use of tobacco snuff.
If you write to the National Cancer Institute (Bethesda, Maryland, 20205) and ask for’ information, you’ll receive a two page fact sheet which includes the following:
“Currently, about 22 million persons in the United States use smokeless tobacco, with increasing numbers of teenage males adopting the habit …The use of smokeless tobacco — chewing tobacco or snuff — is a dangerous practice that may increase a person’s risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx (back of the throat) and esophagus. …For cancers specifically of the gum and cheek, the risk [in one study] was increased 50-fold among long-term users. The fact that risks increased for tumors of the gum and cheek — where the tobacco is placed — shows that the area of the mouth in contact with the tobacco is directly and strongly affected. Additional health effects of smokeless tobacco Include increased blood pressure and heart rate, bad breath, discolored teeth, gum disease and early tooth loss.”
At $500 million in sales last year, the companies peddling this hazardous product are pouring money into television and print promotion. The U.S. Tobacco Company launched a campaign in conjunction with the Winter Olympic Games to promote “Skoal Bandits”. There are no health warnings, as there is required to be with cigarette advertisements. The campaign slogan, “Take a pouch instead of a puff that Skoal Bandits are a safe alternative to cigarette smoking. The company’s advertisingbudget for this product is a mere $30 million.
On February 14, 1984, Public Citizen’s Health Research Group petitioned Chairman James C. Miller of the Federal Trade Commission to require manufacturers of smokeless tobacco to warn their customers of the well-established link between use of such products and oral cancer. The Health Group also requested that users be informed that these products can be addicting. Next year, consumer groups will also ask Congress to remove ads for smokeless tobacco from radio and television as has been the case for nearly 15 years with cigarette advertising.
Mr. Miller, a chronic apologist for industry, still has not moved on the ten month old petition. Perhaps he should put in a call to Betty Marsee for a little sensitivity training.