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Now that the word has gotten around about the health hazards of smoking, many young Americans are turning to chewing tobacco and snuff, thinking they are a safe alternative to cigarettes.

What a sad mistake.The truth is that snuff and chewing tobacco are highly addictive and a serious health hazard, responsible for cancer of the mouth, gums, tongue and throat.

Snuff is flavored, ground up tobacco placed between the cheek and gum. Chewing tobacco is larger and leafier, like spinach, and as the name indicates, is chewed. The two terms are often used interchangeably.

Since 1981, the use of moist snuff has risen 50 percent, prompting doctors to warn of a potential epidemic of oral cancer in a few decades. As one doctor put it, using chewing tobacco or snuff instead of smoking cigarettes is "trading one cancer for another."

Snuff is particularly dangerous because it permits nicotine to be more quickly absorbed. And a dip of snuff has about twice the nicotine contained in one cigarette.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, recently called for an advertising ban on snuff and chewing tobacco.

Predictably, the tobacco industry claims the health hazards connected with snuff are "an unresolved controversy" and threatens to file lawsuits if a ban were to get through Congress.

However, there are steps that can be taken short of enacting new laws.

Some 45 percent of major league baseball players use chewing tobacco. Their chewing and spitting are often seen on televised baseball games. The medical academy has sent a video on the dangers of smokeless tobacco to teams in an effort to get such products banned from clubhouses.

Some baseball organizations already have outlawed the industry practice of free distribution of smokeless tobacco in dressing rooms and clubhouses. More such steps can be encouraged.

In the end, the best answer to smokeless tobacco is the one that appears to have had such impact on smoking, namely, making the habit socially unacceptable.

It worked once before in the late 19th century and early 20th century. In those days, chewing and spitting tobacco was a widespread habit. But public disgust with splattered tobacco juice on floors and streets gradually caused the practice to nearly disappear. That same kind of social pressure needs to be applied to ballplayers and the children who watch and use them as examples.