By Timothy Long
(Knight-Rider) Lincoln, Neb. — Wiley Wright once walked the halls of Northeast High School with a cheerful smile on her face. Now she walks the halls with a scarf wrapped around her mouth.
Wright’s lower jaw was removed earlier this year in an effort to stop the spread of the cancer eating away at her mouth. At 16, Wright is a tragic victim of smokeless tobacco, a tragedy worsened by the fact that she has never taken as much as a pinch of dip in her life.
But the same doesn’t apply to her boyfriend “Carl.”
Carl was an avid consumer of smokeless tobacco. On average, he consumed three cans a day. “I wasn’t too worried about myself,” Carl says with a boyish smile that Wright must have once found attractive. “My granddaddy did it, and my daddy did it, and they didn’t get mouth cancer, so I figured I was okay.”
Discussing the unsuspected consequences of his actions, Carl looks down at the ground, brings a hand to his eyes, and wipes away a tear. “How was I to know she was going to get cancer?” he asks.
According to scientists, preliminary studies in “second-hand dip spit” began only months before Wright was diagnosed, and it is only now that they have some proof. “We’ve known for quite some time there was a correlation between smokeless tobacco and cancer, but only recently have we discovered this tragic side effect,” says Dr. Jay Hamilton, chief researcher at the Texas Institute of Technology. “The tobacco travels from one party to the other through the mixing of saliva associated with deep, or French-style, kissing. The tobacco particles settle in the cheek or gum of the unsuspecting, non-dipping party. Due to the high state of arousal, neither party is usually aware of the exchange of cancer-causing materials when it occurs.”
Despite the dangers, Hamilton says there is no cause for individuals dating dippers to be alarmed as long as they follow a few simple rules.
“We’ve already found ways to combat cancers caused by secondhand dip spit in individuals with normal immune systems,” Hamilton says. “One is abstaining from deep-mouth kissing, and the other is maintaining good dental hygiene.”
Educators, however, believe these rules are useless and fear an epidemic among the teen population. Larry Doggett, principal of Northeast High in Lincoln, where at least three students have suffered snuff-related illnesses, is one of the worried. He knows authorities have their work cut out for them. “Even though the government can stop convenience stores from selling tobacco to minors, and schools can ban all tobacco products, there’s little we can do to stop teenage dating,” Doggett says.
However, one school may have done just that. Tracy Griggs, principal of Westside High, has not only forbidden all public displays of affection between students, but she has asked that each one of her students sign a contract promising they will forgo dating until after graduation. “So far, we haven’t seen any measurable results, but I know the policy is working,” Griggs says. “We are confident the dating ban is having a positive impact on the health of our students. It has to.”
Some disagree. Says Westside High student Ben Williams, “Sure, I signed the contract, and so did everybody else I know, but that doesn’t stop us from hooking up.”
According to Williams, some students have even begun to recklessly flaunt the rules, seeking out life-and-death thrills. “It’s pretty typical now for a guy and his girlfriend to split a can of Skoal, take a dip, make out for a bit, and then swap dips. They say it’s the bomb,” Williams says. “I haven’t done it yet because my girlfriend’s scared, but I think I can talk her into it.”