Time to spit out today’s cancerous role models

Perhaps country singer Gretchen Wilson is confused by her status as a role model; it doesn’t mean she should model how to roll a wad of chewing tobacco into her lower lip.

For her recent tobacco promotion, the country singer is now joining an ever-expanding group of not-so-worthy pop idols. Wilson, 32, a role model among teenage females who frequent her concerts, has been flashing a can of chewing tobacco to the crowd during her recent performances of new song “Skoal Ring,” a song simply about the wonders of chew.

Glamorizing chewing tobacco to an audience of impressionable young fans goes a long way to undermine every anti-tobacco campaign created to convince youths to avoid the cancer-causing habit. On stage, Wilson’s gestures with her small can of tobacco may seem innocent and playful, but they can be detrimental.

The female population has been a growing victim of lung cancer for decades. About 21 percent of U.S. females are smokers, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, far from the U.S. goal of cutting the number of smokers to 12.5 percent by 2010. Lung cancer rates increased 600 percent among women in the second half of the 20th century, and deaths from lung cancer now significantly outnumbers deaths from breast cancer.

Smokeless tobacco, a more glamorized, if shocking, form of ingesting tobacco, will only continue this trend. This stiff-lower-lip form of tobacco ingestion dramatically increases a person’s chance of getting oral cancer.

Unfortunately, Wilson isn’t the only popular image to be making lousy impressions on adolescents.

The continued, incessant glamorizing of cigarettes in movies, is just part of the problem. Paris Hilton gets famous with an infamous video and simple life, Hugh Grant is caught with a prostitute, sports stars are using steroids and illicit drugs – the list of big name figures making poor decisions seems to be growing in newspaper headlines.

None of these actions should slide without condemnation. Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers has taken swift aim at Wilson for her in-concert displays, a move that will help put a dark shadow on Wilson’s lower lip. Parents have a role in this culture also, letting kids know that the actions of an idol may not be that actions of a role model.

At least that will give kids something to chew on.

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