Teens learn smokeless tobacco not safe

By Keith Boles - bio | email feedback

PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) -- Call it dip, chew, snuff, spit tobacco ...any one of several marketing terms... It's still not particularly good for you.

Rick Bender starting using smokeless tobacco at age 12.

The resulting effects of cancer and the treatments literally have left him with half a face.

Bender was at Paragould High school today speaking to students about his life with spit tobacco as he calls it.

With his blunt no nonsense presentation, Bender related his oral cancer diagnosis at 25 that nearly cost him his life.

Bender says his mission is to educate kids about the myth that smokeless tobacco is a safer alternative.

"That's really what I am out here trying to break is that misnomer that this is safe, it's not. Tobacco, is tobacco. You can roll it, stuff it in a pipe or chew it. It's all the same stuff. It can give you cancer and will give you heart disease."

He is known as the "Man Without a Face" due to all the surgery he has gone through to beat cancer and the devastating side effects.

His mission..to tell the truth about smokeless or for that matter any tobacco.

"There's still a question of why it happened to me. The answer is because I used tobacco."

Primarily smokeless tobacco or spit tobacco as Bender calls it. When he was 12 he recalls TV Ads with Football Great Walt Garrison pitching safe, smokeless tobacco.

"He says it's a safe alternative. Turns out to be the biggest lie I was ever been told. But I fell for it and started using it."

Bender says he dipped for years until he noticed sores in his mouth and began to be concerned.

"I'm only 25 years old. Cancer, it doesn't happen to people my age."

Bender went through numerous surgeries and treatments that left him with half a jaw, part of his tongue gone and severe loss of movement in his right arm. It nearly cost him his life.

"I'm just here to tell them what happened to me. If it's scary, so be it."

I spoke to a couple of Ninth graders to see what their reactions were and it wasn't scare tactics but really good information they took to heart."

Keelee Rushing says she knows a couple of her classmates that smoke and dip. Her biggest shocker came when Bender showed what the onset of oral cancer looks like.

"Especially when I saw those pictures. That kind of hit me,like don't smoke."

Mason Coy had been offered smokes and dip numerous times. He says he always passed.

"I want to live a healthy future and it can really damage that."

Lynn Treece the school health coordinator says kids do smoke and dip but there is help if they choose to stop.

"Through tobacco education and cessation programs and that addiction can happen very early and we want them to be aware of that."

Fender says his goal is to get kids to think when offered a dip or smoke.

"Maybe they'll remember my face. Maybe they'll say no at that point."

Mason Coy, "Now I know the true facts, what it will do, it's pretty scary."

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