It’s banned by the NCAA, causes mouth cancer and is viewed by many as disgusting. Yet smokeless tobacco is consumed regularly by a small yet relatively steady number of male students at Dartmouth.
“Dip,” a popular type of smokeless tobacco, is finely cut tobacco that is pinched from a tin and placed in between the gum and the lip. The user then spits out a mixture of some of the tobacco and saliva as nicotine is absorbed into the bloodstream.
One percent of students use smokeless tobacco almost daily and 5.4 percent have tried it in their lifetimes, according to a biennial study of all undergraduates conducted by the College in the spring of 2005.
Although smokeless tobacco use has increased nationally, particularly among high school students, Coordinator of Alcohol and Other Drug Education Programs Brian Bowden said he doesn’t expect this trend to hold true at Dartmouth.
“I have been told by students that it’s used in the library, it’s used in certain floors, it’s used by certain athletic teams and things of that nature,” said Bowden, who started his current position during Fall term and has not yet seen a student using smokeless tobacco.
Athletes and members of fraternities with higher percentages of athletes are most likely to use smokeless tobacco regularly, according to students who use the product or have friends who do. Dipping seems to remain a predominantly male habit; none of the students interviewed knew of any women who dipped even occasionally.
“There’s definitely a jock appeal. You don’t see a tiny chem lab kid dipping in chem lab,” said Hannes Thum ’07, a member of the Nordic ski team who has used smokeless tobacco.
NCAA rules forbid athletes from using tobacco during practice or competition.
“I don’t think it’s right to dictate and I don’t go around articulating a lot of consequences,” baseball coach Bob Whalen said, “but we just ask them not to do it when they’re representing the school.”
Although he does not explicitly forbid players from using smokeless tobacco outside baseball, Whalen said he goes out of his way to talk to players about it in the hope that they will also refrain from dipping off the field.
Many people associate baseball with smokeless tobacco, but baseball players and members of several other sports teams said that the rates of its use are generally no higher on the baseball team than on other athletic teams. Baseball players also said that fewer students on Dartmouth’s team dip than at other universities.
“I played summer ball with players from all across the country,” baseball player Andrew Nacario ’07 said. “Dip is more prevalent with players from other schools.”
Other students, such as men’s hockey player Rob Pritchard ’09, said that the percentage of Dartmouth students who used smokeless tobacco was no lower than at other universities.
“From my experience, Dartmouth isn’t significantly different from anywhere else,” he said. “There will always be a small number of people who have tried it, a smaller number who occasionally do it, and an even smaller number who frequently do it, just like any other tobacco use.” Pritchard, along with several other men, estimated that the percentage of Dartmouth students who used smokeless tobacco was closer to five or 10 percent.
Most agreed that Dartmouth students who dip now picked up the habit in high school.
“There’s a lot of stuff that people get more into when they come to college,” Thum, the skier, said, “but I think that dipping isn’t really on the list of what people start doing.”
Students who come to Dartmouth from rural areas may also be more likely to use smokeless tobacco.
“I would imagine many also pick it up through this ‘heartland America’ culture, which is to an extent existing also on Dartmouth’s campus, but more so in the breadbasket and the grain lands of America where things like this are much more accepted and go hand in hand with a maturing and coming of age,” said dip user and St. Louis native Andrew Eastman ’07.
Eastman, a member of Phi Delta Alpha fraternity and not a varsity athlete, said he started using smokeless tobacco regularly about two years ago and that he consumes between three and five tins of it each week.
“This is a mystical journey and I’m just now crossing the first hills of it. And from on top of these hills I see a long and very verdant valley of years of dipping stretching out in front of me,” he said.
Eastman said he is not concerned by the health risks associated with smokeless tobacco, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, includes several forms of oral cancer and sores in the mouth and gums.
“I think that by the time it gets to be that point we’ll be able to fix just about anything that I might need fixed,” he said.
Although the smokeless tobacco market at Dartmouth remains small, the smokeless tobacco industry has tried to capitalize on it by approaching fraternities about hosting parties.
Skoal hosted two parties in fall of 2004 and winter of 2005 at Chi Heorot fraternity after member Mike Hartwick ’07 met a representative from the smokeless tobacco manufacturer, which has annual sales exceeding $1 billion. The representative distributed beer cozies, T-shirts and Skoal samples at the parties.
“We didn’t really advertise the Skoal,” Hartwick said. “We weren’t trying to get people hooked on chew. We were dying for dues and they said they’d pay for the party and the deejay and everything, so we took the easy way out.”
Hartwick said that he regrets letting Skoal hold the events and has declined subsequent requests to help host additional parties at Heorot.
“It was a young, dumb thing to do,” Hartwick said. “I don’t want to get somebody hooked on chewing tobacco and 10 years later, five years, have lip cancer or mouth cancer.”
Although many students chew tobacco openly in their fraternities or in public spaces, some believe chewing tobacco should not have a place in College-owned buildings.
“[Athletes] in the library that are actually doing some studying tend to dip Skoal or something of the nature. From what I understand they’re clean with it, they throw away their spit, but it can be annoying for those who are sitting there,” Bowden, the drug educator, said. He said that the use of smokeless tobacco should be banned in the library, noting that two students had complained to him about other students using smokeless tobacco there.
Bowden said the College should amend its smoke-free residence hall policy to ban chewing tobacco as well.
Dartmouth does not impose restrictions on the substance’s use, according to Dean of Residential Life Marty Redman, because, unlike cigarettes, it doesn’t affect other students living in residence halls.
“The issue really only is when they knock [the spit cup] over or leave it in public spaces,” Redman said.
When Redman worked at Temple Junior College in central Texas, he provided spittoons — receptacles for tobacco spit — because about half of the male students there used smokeless tobacco. Redman said he hasn’t seen a similar need at Dartmouth, though a couple of rooms have been damaged by the contents of cups.
“They are more stain kind of issues that are no different from any other student who’s made a mess in their room,” he said.
But on the Office of Residential Life’s list of problems, Redman said, students who spill their spit cups rank relatively low, especially when compared to others who urinate or vomit in hallways.