Smokeless tobacco huge risk to South Asian women

Smokeless tobacco poses a huge risk to South Asian women – with awareness of the dangers low.

That’s according to new research which found that over one in six (17%) people of Asian ethnic origin used smokeless tobacco. Smoking of normal tobacco was only slightly higher at 22%.

Approaching a third of respondents (29%) considered smokeless tobacco to be less harmful than normal tobacco and just under half (49%) did not know. In reality, smokeless tobacco is more dangerous and the incidence of mouth cancer is significantly greater among South Asian women.

The types of smokeless tobacco products most used in the UK often contain a mix of ingredients including slaked lime, spices, flavourings and sweeteners.

Areca nut – a known carcinogen – is also sometimes added. Unlike normal tobacco they are not burnt, but can used in a variety of ways including sucking, chewing, inhaling through the nose or rubbed onto gums.  Gutka, Khaini, Pan Masala are just some of the many varieties of smokeless tobacco used in the UK.

Despite the higher risk of mouth cancer in South Asian communities, less than 10% of respondents said they had ever asked their dentist to check for mouth cancer.

The British Dental Health Foundation conducted the survey in the run up to Mouth Cancer Action Month, which begins on 1 November 2011 and is supported by Denplan.

Smokeless tobacco, along with smoking, drinking alcohol to excess, poor diet and some sexually transmitted infections (Human Papilloma Virus or HPV) are all known risk factors for mouth cancer which is likely to affect 60,000 people in the UK over the next decade.

Chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, said: ‘More work needs to be done to improve our knowledge about the usage of smokeless tobacco and the best ways of communicating clear messages to remove the on-going confusion about the risk of smokeless tobacco.

‘Education is key and we hope Mouth Cancer Action Month will provide an opportunity for everyone living and working in South East Asian communities to raise awareness.

‘It is really important that everyone knows the warning signs for mouth cancer. They include ulcers which do not heal within three weeks, red and white patches in the mouth and unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth. Our message to everyone is “If in doubt, get checked out”.’

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