BALLSTON SPA: Facing the facts about tobacco

"I remember my father sitting by my bed in the hospital crying," said Bender. "There wasn't anything left for them to cut out. I lost such an enormous portion of my tongue; I can't even lick my lips. They gave me two years to live."

Against the odds, Bender did survive, and now travels the country hoping to scare teens straight.

"I don't care if you roll it into a cigarette, stuff it into a pipe, or chew it " it's still tobacco," said Bender. "The younger and healthier you are, the faster the cancer grows. I've met people who got oral cancer under the age of 30 in all these years speaking to groups, and there are only 11 of them still alive in this country."

The 1.2-ounce tins of chewing tobacco Bender once used hold the equivalent of 4-6 packs of cigarettes.

"If your body absorbed all the nicotine in this tin at once, you'd be dead on the spot," said Bender, waving a colorful green can. "You'd die of an overdose."

Bender's presentation also included graphic slides of irreversible damage to the lips, teeth and gums, including leukoplakia, a pre-cancerous state found in 60 to 78 percent of spit tobacco users.

"Spit tobacco has dirt, sugar and salt in it," said Bender. "That's in addition to benzene, lead, acetone, formaldehyde and about 30 other ingredients that belong in a car or in paint remover, but not in your body."

The sobering presentation was brought to the high school by the Saratoga County chapter of Reality Check, a teen-launched campaign against the tobacco industry's misleading and false ads about tobacco use, and in particular, the ads that appear to be aimed at teenagers.

"The companies need kids to start smoking, or they'd go out of business," said Nikki Fuller, a 10th grader at the high school and member of Reality Check. "We want to bring out into the public what's really going on."

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