Saturday, June 08, 2013

the good news about spit tobacco

The thing about running and walking (and I have an incrementally higher run-to-walk ratio each time) is that you move both literally and figuratively. I started out feeling grateful for a sunny morning; the words Life is wonderful may have actually formed in my head. A mile or so later I was teary, and the words It’s not fair, I didn’t do anything formed. You know, just as a general rebuttal to The Man I’m constantly haggling with in my mind.

By the time I looped around the York/Figueroa elbow and back to Franklin High School, I saw three beefy looking guys, one of whom was wearing what appeared to be a bullet-proof vest. Another was swinging a sledgehammer. Is this one of those see something/say something moments? I wondered. But I didn’t, and they made their way onto campus.

Probably to fix something…right?

Two blocks later, I was thinking about an article posted by Craig Santos Perez, about how processed salt contributes to various diseases. When I read it, I simultaneously vowed to get more Michael Pollan-y in my eating habits and felt irked that people’s reaction to most horrific revelations is to look for some little personal habit we can take away to feel better about ourselves. Eat less salt. Do weight-bearing exercise. Recycle.

Those things are worth doing, but if you truly believe that grinding Himalayan salt into your pasta water instead of Morton’s is going to save you, then you also sort of believe the reverse will give you an autoimmune disease, right?
Yeah, I'll say it pours.
I left this comment on Craig’s Facebook page: “I think these types of studies should absolutely inform cultural shifts and public policy decisions, but (as someone genetically predisposed to self-blame) it’s important not to equate disease with personal behavior. The folks I know with MS aren’t fast food junkies. As one prof in the article says, ‘These are not diseases of bad genes alone or diseases caused by the environment, but diseases of a bad interaction between genes and the environment.’”

Then I proceeded to do nothing toward changing public policy and very, very little toward changing culture.

So, I was thinking about personal behavior vs. systemic change, and wondering who these mythical abdicators of personal responsibility that Republicans are always complaining about actually are, because I’ve never met them, when I saw this:
The Garbage Pail version would be Harry Tongue.
The cards were scattered like autumn leaves for blocks. When I first saw “Hairy Tongue,” I thought it was some kind of new take on Garbage Pail Kids. But soon it became clear this was a public service announcement.

This is different from the Good News about Jesus.

I had so many questions: Did they come in packs of chewing tobacco, some kind of novel Surgeon General’s Warning? Or were they sold next to the tobacco, like a sad six-pack of Near Beer?

I assume chewing tobacco is a real problem—hence the cards—but I’ve never known anyone who’s chewed it. I live in the wrong part of the country, I guess. So it’s hard to know whether these scared-straight tactics would work, since they’re aimed at a totally foreign species—people who would find stuffing their face like chipmunks and spitting black saliva into a cup appealing in the first place.

The "advance billing" refers to pre-cancerous leukoplakia.
The language of scared-straight campaigns bugs me because it taps into all my early-childhood-based fears of being eternally punished for the slightest slip-up. “Irreversible cancer,” promises the Leukoplakia card. “Only surgery can stop it now.”

Okay, so cancer is not reversible in the way that, say, diabetes is. But even the card admits it’s stoppable. If you have a nasty tumor on your tongue, maybe you’ll have to “learn sign language” because “your tongue is history,” but guess what, my cousin and her husband speak sign language (because they’re deaf, not because they’re tobacco chewers) and they have a really nice life. At least if the pictures from her son’s elementary school graduation are any indication.
Also, the mute folks in westerns always seem to be really cool.
Scare tactics involve holding up someone’s life as a cautionary tale, ignoring the secret that person knows: There’s life after you fall off the cliff. It’s better and worse than you can imagine. No matter how much tobacco you don’t chew, you will reach the edge of some cliff, and then you’ll be let in on the secret.   

Because tobacco chewers with rotting teeth are known for their wisdom, right?


Claire said...

Ah, chaw (as it's known in the South).

I think the scare tactics work better as preventatives.

Certainly worked for me with smoking so that I thought you'd have to be a fucking idiot to smoke by the time I hit middle school. This with parents who smoked (and eventually quit) and a brother who smokes (and quits and smokes again).

It's not that they didn't know it was bad for them, they were/are to varying degrees addicted. Dad stopped cold turkey one day. Mom took a few to several more years to stop.

My brother, well he is a fucking idiot because he started because his friends smoked. And since his wife does, he thinks, why bother if she doesn't stay on the wagon? Well, I can think of a lot of reasons, but whatever. I've stopped keeping track of whether they're smoking or not. It's like he didn't realize that tell-tale inhale was a dead giveaway even over the phone.

"I have an incrementally higher run-to-walk ratio each time"

Good for you! If I run/jog at all, it's short enough I count paces. 50-100 is better than none I figure.

Cheryl said...

Well, smoking and quitting and smoking and quitting is better than just smoking continuously right? :-)

Val said...

These chew/dip prevention ads are kind of like the Go Ask Alice of this niche of the tobacco world. It seems to me they'd work best with children or with those of us who've never dipped (but maybe knows someone who has/does). Somehow every place I've lived, I've known dippers (dipsticks?). I dated one in Philly. I knew several in NYC and well they were everywhere in Dallas. They're harder to spot here in Iowa since most have mastered the art of undetected dipping and unless they dip and spit, which thankfully they rarely do when I'm around, it can be easily overlooked. My husband (from Iowa) has been known to partake on occasion. And on those occasions, I've been known not to kiss him. If my nagging won't stop him, scary ads won't either. He and I used to smoke and we quit when I got pregnant. But I know non-knocked up quitting isn't exactly easy and the urge to smoke doesn't necessarily go away so he dips from time to time, and I try to pretend not to notice. My 10y/o self might've posted these pics all over our house (she/I used to throw away my dad's cigarettes). But old(er) me resists that urge--mainly b/c I know they're futile but also b/c I'd hate to see gnarly pics of my own bad habits thrown in my face. Great blog!

Cheryl said...

Very Go Ask Alice! Bonus points for leaving a MCW 635-related comment. :-)

Meehan said...

I'm struggling with this post because I think the critique of equating disease with behavior breaks down in all sorts of ways when applied to tobacco and other close environmental/disease correlations.

("But if you truly believe that adding vitamin C to your diet is going to save you from scurvy, then you also sort of believe that lack of vitamin C will give you scurvy, right?" Right.)

Doesn't mean anyone deserves to get disease if they dip or don't eat they citrus or whatever--causation doesn't equal blame. I just don't think tobacco-related cancers are a functionally equivalent comparison to MS or other diseases with less abject environmental causation.

Meehan said...

Related Googling did lead me to the dangers of secondhand spit,1311/

and more on the collectible chewing tobacco cards you found

They appear aimed at youth baseball players.

Cheryl said...

M: You're right, sometimes causation is pretty clear. I think I'm always concerned with the metaphorical and moral implications of science, and they can get conflated in problematic ways.

Meanwhile, I think the tobacco cards and that Onion article actually work as great anti-obesity tactics, because I have kind of lost my appetite now. :-)