"Snuff’ tent upsets tobacco foes
BRECKENRIDGE – The lunchtime scene at the base of the Beaver Run SuperChair on Peak 9 was fairly typical for mid-March: smoke curling up from the barbecue, college students lazing about in the sun and children awkwardly stomping around in ski boots.
But for the past five days, there also was a tent featuring free product samples – of Copenhagen smokeless tobacco known as “chew” or “snuff.”
The tent is emblazoned with the words “Copenhagen Territory USA, 2004 Spring Break,” and inside, company representatives are doling out free samples.
The Summit Prevention Alliance’s Laurie Blackwell was anything but happy when a family from Boulder told her about the tent, which is scheduled to stay up until Wednesday.
“Our community has made a very strong vocal decision about the presence of secondhand smoke,” said Blackwell, the tobacco prevention coordinator.
“What really makes me sad is that I’ve spent three years working to educate people about the dangers of tobacco. That’s what we do, is work on issues of youth and tobacco. This flies in the face of what we as a community have been trying to do.”
Beaver Run general manager Joe Shackleton said the only other company he knows of that approached the resort asking to rent space during spring break was a bungee jumping outfit, and he didn’t want the liability.
He added that he’s had several complaints about the tent.
“In hindsight, I wish we hadn’t done this,” he said.
“It’s created a lot of ill feelings with the general public.
“The last thing we want to do is create a situation where our guests feel we’re not acting in the best interests of skiing and the family outdoor adventure type of vacation. This is it; it won’t happen again.”
Blackwell is particularly outraged at the smokeless tobacco company because she feels it is targeting its product to young people – possibly in violation of the Master Settlement Agreement made between numerous states and the tobacco industry.
People manning the booth are, however, asking for peoples’ identification to make sure they are at least 18 years of age, and no product is given to people outside the tent.
The attorney general’s office says the company is in compliance with the agreement.
“If anyone thinks they’re not targeting youth … this is totally targeting youth,” Blackwell said.
“They’re not targeting the 40 and older group; those are not the ones standing in line. Bottom line is, there are families here. This tent is positioned so people have to walk by it. And the visiting population doubled over the weekend.”
Don Parsons, a physician with SmokeFree Summit that launched the drive to make Summit County and its towns go smoke-free, said the smokeless tobacco issue is a bit different than the smoking issue.
“If people put a pinch between their teeth and gum, it doesn’t affect other people,” he said.
“But the real problem with smokeless tobacco is that it has a strong appeal to younger people. And it can cause serious cancer in young people. It’s another example of the tobacco industry manipulating and taking advantage of young people who are always eager for anything that’s free.”
Some people think smokeless tobacco is less dangerous than cigarettes, Blackwell said, adding that people diagnosed with oral cancer typically die within five years.
“It’s every bit as harmful as smoking,” she said.
“It has 28 carcinogens, it’s not a safe way to use tobacco. It’s important for people to understand this is not a safe alternative.”
Jason Luchtefeld, a dentist with Ten Mile Dental in Frisco, occasionally sees patients whose mouths have been damaged by smokeless tobacco.
“Just the way it’s placed in the mouth and held there, the gum tissue starts getting beat up,” he said.
“It gets a different appearance. There’s a cascade of events – changes in texture, color, feel – that eventually can turn to cancer.”
As to the tent, Luchtefeld said, “I think they’re contributing to the oral cancer of Colorado. It’s sad to see. It’s too bad they look too much at the business aspect and not enough at the health aspect of it.
“They need to be more conscious of what their product is doing to people.”
Blackwell said she met with Shackleton, whose office overlooks the picnic area at the base of the Beaver Run SuperChair.
“He was likewise disappointed, and said he’d see to it that it wouldn’t be there next year,” she said.
“But it’s here for seven days. Tons of damage has already been done.”
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