Cancer survivor warns of tobacco’s danger

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As the students of Cedar Key School grades five through 12 filed into the auditorium last period on Tuesday, several took a peek at their speaker, Rick Bender.  Some of the students figured they would be hearing a lecture about not smoking because the sponsors of the upcoming program were SWAT (Students Working Against Tobacco) and the Levy County Health Department.  

However, when Bender unfolded his personal story of being diagnosed with squamous cell cancer of the mouth and throat at age 25 and described undergoing massive surgery at age 27, the students sat up straight in their chairs and paid more attention.  

The surgery was so extensive that Bender lost the front part of his tongue, and he was left with only 25 percent use of his right arm.  But he wasn’t through with the dreaded affliction as later surgeries resulted in the loss of his lower jaw.

Bender explained that he started using tobacco products at age 12 and now, at age 48, he will deal with the consequences of his choices the rest of his life.  He is thankful to be alive to tell his story and spends his time educating people about the hazards of the use of any type of tobacco.

What factors influence the use of tobacco products? One student answered , “peer pressure.  All of your friends smoke, so you smoke too.”  Another influencing factor is the association of well-known figures with tobacco products. Who could forget the Marlboro Man?  Bender stated the tobacco industry spends upwards of $13 billion dollars a year to advertise their products and targets first-time users or persons about the age of 12.

Since the passage of the Clean Indoor Air Act, advertising has shifted to the  promotion of smokeless tobacco and encourages “take a pinch instead of a puff.”  However, Bender pointed out that one 1.2 ounce can of snuff contains as much nicotine as three to four packs of cigarettes.  To further entice users, the round can has been replaced with a slim, flat can to make it more appealing to both men and women.

Research shows that tobacco products contain 28 carcinogens or cancer causing agents and tobacco users are 50 times more likely to get cancer from the use of tobacco in any form.  Bender stressed that there is no safe form of tobacco.

Bender’s Levy County tour included addressing students at Nature Coast Middle School in Chiefland and a Coalition meeting at Capital City Bank in Chiefland.

For more information, contact Steven Strickland at the Levy County Health Department, 66 W. Main Street, Bronson, Fl 32621 or by telephone at (352) 486-3404.