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The official tourist website of Wyoming, set right in the middle of the USA, says it is the ‘cowboy state’, and home to more deer and antelope than people. But to oral or "spit" tobacco manufacturers, there are enough people, especially young people, for it to be a lucrative market. Health workers believe that part of the problem has been the promotion of the product as "smokeless tobacco", with the implication that it is safe. Wyoming has lagged behind most other states to combat the problem, which is now being addressed more seriously.
As part of the state health department’s "Through with Chew" week in February, children who apparently might usually sit at home at the weekend, some with a chewing tobacco tin readily to hand, have been recruited to an unusual programme. Working with AnimAction, a Los Angeles-based outfit that helps young people develop artistic and creative skills through devising and making animated films, more than forty school children attended a day long workshop in January to learn more about oral tobacco and then devise animated films to pass on vital information about its dangers to their peers.
Reportedly, children who already knew that oral tobacco caused mouth cancer had little or no idea of its other dangers, such as its association with cancer in other organs though the ingestion of tobacco tainted saliva. Armed with a much more thorough knowledge, they set about their film work in small teams, knowing that the storylines and designs judged most effective would be made into real animated movies and aired on local television. Perhaps tomorrow’s cowboys will be more like the film-makers who make them famous than their tobacco spitting predecessors.