Tobacco use at GHS highlighted at forum

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Sat., May. 28, 2011
GHS senior Alison Ganci (right) takes part in a demonstration by Maryellen Bolcer about how quickly nicotine diminishes one's abilities at the Youth Advisory Council town hall forum on teen tobacco use on May 25. Photos by Steve Smith.
GHS senior Alison Ganci (right) takes part in a demonstration by Maryellen Bolcer about how quickly nicotine diminishes one's abilities at the Youth Advisory Council town hall forum on teen tobacco use on May 25. Photos by Steve Smith.

About 100 residents of all ages attended the May 25 town hall meeting on tobacco use, presented by the Youth Advisory Council at the Riverfront Community Center.

YAC member Leonard Slutsky said the council chose the topic for the forum after several members noticed a lot of their peers using a new form of smokeless tobacco, known as Snus, at Glastonbury High School.

Keynote speakers Maryellen Bolcer and Susan Richards from the St. Vincent's Medical Center Foundation presented “Swim Around the Sound,” an informative and interactive program that explains the dangers of all types of tobacco.

“The cigarette companies hate that we’re here,” Bolcer said, before talking about many ways in which tobacco companies are targeting youth.

“Nobody knows how to smoke [before the first time],” she said. “Everybody's body rejects it, but the cigarette company knows that the first time someone starts smoking, the body starts creating 13 times more phlegm.”

Bolcer explained that since menthol has soothing properties, menthol cigarettes – including a new brand that “pops” to change the flavor – are being marketed to kids and teens.

“This is a scam,” she said. “You're not smoking because you need the nicotine; you're smoking them because your throat is killing you.”

“Slim” cigarettes are also being targeted to teen girls.

“They want you to be anywhere, smoking this skinny cigarette,” Bolcer said, “because they want your friends to say to you, ‘Oh, wow, you’re going to be thin.’ It's a lie.”

Bolcer also showed actual samples of human lung tissue – from healthy, as well as cancerous- and emphysema-afflicted lungs.

Snus, Bolcer said, and other chewing tobaccos are actually more harmful than smoking, largely because of the addition of sodium, which exposes the user to more infections and cancers.

“Because the salt is in this product, every person who uses it has a cut in their mouth,” Bolcer said. “That cut creates puss. That puss creates the gum line to loosen, lessen, and recede. It never grows back.”

Bolcer said a package of Snus (which, non-coincidentally, is made to look like a package of mints, she said) is as toxic as four and a half packs of cigarettes.

“Within five years, one out of two young people who use this product will have mouth cancer,” Bolcer said.

Richards said she actually objects to the term “smokeless tobacco,” since it implies that the Snus is safer, when in actuality, it is just as harmful as cigarettes.

“Using those different tobacco products is now responsible for almost one-third of all of the types of cancer,” Richards said.

Perhaps the moment that had the most impact was when Bolcer asked several teens in the room to come up to the front and take a whiff from a container of used cigarette butts. She was able to accurately tell each person what part of their body or senses was most affected by the small dose of nicotine. Some felt light-headed, while some felt it more in their stomachs. Sinuses and eyes were more affected in others.

Then, Bolcer had each teen hold their arm out to the side and resist her pushing down on it. She had them take another whiff of the nicotine, and tried the same test. None were able to resist with anything close to resembling the same strength. Bolcer explained that nicotine automatically and quickly interferes with brain activity.

“You can't tell your body to act as strongly,” Richards said.

“It was a shock to the system. I wasn't expecting it to make such a fast impact,” said Victoria Lewis, a member of the YAC and the GHS track team. “I wasn't expecting her to be able to do that. I saw her, and I saw me being an athlete. I thought it would be easy to hold it up, but all of a sudden my arm was like a bowling ball.”

A panel, including Richards, Bolcer, four YAC members, and Glastonbury Schools Health and Physical Education Coordinator Anne Marie Colebrook led an open discussion on teen tobacco use in Glastonbury.

Much of the discussion centered on the number of students who are using tobacco at GHS and the policing of its use.

YAC member Rob Carroll – a senior at GHS – said that he estimates that 60 percent of GHS athletes use tobacco.

Colebrook said there have been studies as recently as 2009 that would indicate that number is high, but added that it is very difficult to gauge.

“It's hard for faculty and staff to really determine if a student is using,” she said. “Coaches are definitely aware that there are consequences, but the level of usage is hard to determine when those kinds of things are private.”

GHS Assistant Principal Mary Abrams said the first time a student is caught using or possessing tobacco on school grounds results in a three-day suspension.

In response to a question from the audience, Abrams said she doesn't believe there are teachers who overlook tobacco use.

“We – most of your teachers – have grown up in a generation where we've watched people we love go through this,” Abrams said, “or we've been educated better. I think teachers are pretty committed to knowing the dangers of it.”

The purpose of the forum was to increase awareness about Snus, and all tobacco use, and it would seem it served its purpose.

“I thought it went very well,” Slutsky said of the event. “We had people from all different groups – we had principals, administrators, youth, parents and teachers. That was very important to us.”

“I was especially glad at the amount of kids that showed up,” Lewis said. “We usually get a room full of adults. This is good, because if any of those kids can tell three or four of their friends about this night, it will make an impact.”



It's admirable to want to save kids from making bad decisions.

It's inappropriate to lie to them as part of this effort.

"Snus, Bolcer said, and other chewing tobaccos are actually more harmful than smoking, largely because of the addition of sodium, which exposes the user to more infections and cancers."

This is the single most ridiculous statement I've ever read. Smokeless has been shown over and over to be greater then 90% less harmful then smoking. No study has ever shown smokeless to be more harmful then smoking. With snus - the only link that has been shown to cancer is a doubling of risk for pancreatic cancer - from 4 in 10,000 people to 8 in 10.000 people. Generically, smokeless tobacco may also cause some increase in mouth cancers. But still, even worst case - the risks presented by smokeless are documented to be less then the risks of pancreatic or mouth cancers for smokers).

Moving on... Sodium causes infections and cancers? Suddenly I'm regretting those chips I had with lunch... It is clear that Bolcer is either ignorant and/or pursuing a personal agenda without regard for facts. Science matters. And lying to children rarely results in the outcome you desire. (20 years ago they told us there was broken glass or fiberglass mixed in with it...)

I don't expect you to take my word for it. Unlike Bolcer and Richards, I don't inappropriately hold myself as an expert. What us non-experts should do in this case is present evidence for our statements:
"Smokers averaged a life expectancy nearly eight years lower than those who used smokeless tobacco or did not use tobacco (28.1 years versus 35.9 years in the latter two groups). Smokeless tobacco users averaged a life expectancy 15 days shorter than a nonuser."

So, 8 years versus 15 days = not safer? That's like saying that jumping from an airplane with a parachute is not safer then jumping from an airplane without a parachute.
"Contrary to a popular misperception, all forms of tobacco are not equally risky. Smokeless tobacco causes neither lung cancer nor other diseases of the lung, and users have no excess risk for heart attacks. In fact, the only consequential — but infrequent — adverse health effect of smokeless tobacco use is oral cancer. ... However, this relative risk is only about one half the relative risk of oral cancer from smoking."

So, go get a list of all of the health problems associated with smoking. (Here's a good list: Then cross off everything but oral and pancreatic cancer (you can divide those by 2).

Then look at your list and tell yourself that smokeless is "not safer" then smoking. If you can do that - Bolcer and Richards would be proud. If you can see that smokeless is not "safe", but that it is "safer" then smoking - welcome to the rational segment of society.

Statistically, about 20% of people will use tobacco regardless of anti-smoking efforts. This can either be smoking which will ultimately likely kill them whilst simultaneously polluting the air around them and impacting the health of their families, friends and bystanders. Or, this can be smokeless - which probably won't kill them and doesn't actually affect anyone else.

If you don't use tobacco - don't start.

If you do use tobacco - don't smoke.

(I welcome any fact based rebuttal from the YAC. I'd especially like to see any peer-reviewed research on their suggestion that tiny amounts of nicotine result in you being immediately unable to "tell your body to act as strongly" - this theory of hers is not aligned with scientific consensus and reeks of snake oil. There's probably also an ethical question of whether you should be giving nicotine to kids - especially if you truly believe it to be this mind altering and dangerous.)


"“Within five years, one out of two young people who use this product will have mouth cancer,” Bolcer said."

I wonder what this Bolcer had smoked before the meeting. Studies on Swedish snus have consistently shown no staistically observable incidence on mouth cancer, or at worst a very weak one. Effects on gum are real, but not nearly as bad and systematic as this person has it. Overall, a snus user has about as much chance to die from it than a car user to die in a car accident. Snus is much safer than smoked tobacco, and no serious partisan of tobacco control would deny that.

American snus hasn't been as much tested as the Swedish brand, but its health effects are probably not very different.

Think about it: would P. Morris or Reynolds make a product that will kill 50% of the users in five years? Does it make a lot of sense from a purely economic, greedy, point of view? Who will buy the product in five years?

Look, if you want to deter people from smoking or using other forms of tobacco, that's fine, but this is just insane. I wonder who pays these people to go around spreading idiotic stories like that. I just hope it's not the taxpayer.

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