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’Man without a face’ to present dangers of spit tobacco

Nationally recognized speaker Rick Bender, who some call the man without a face, will speak to Central Louisiana youth and adults about the dangers of using spit tobacco from Oct. 11-21 in a series of presentations funded by The Rapides Foundation called “Giving People Something Else to Chew On.”

Bender knows all too well the dangers of using spit tobacco. After using spit tobacco since he was 12 years old, he was diagnosed at 26 with cancer caused by his tobacco use. Four major surgeries later, 48-year-old Bender is now missing one-third of his tongue, half of his jaw and some use of his right arm.

The Rapides Foundation considers Bender’s message especially important to its nine-parish service area because of the high prevalence of residents who use spit tobacco.

Central Louisiana residents use smokeless tobacco more than twice as much as people across the United States, according to the Foundation’s 2005 Community Health Assessment. In some parishes, such as Catahoula, nearly 20 percent of adults use spit tobacco.

“Too many of our residents are suffering devastating effects on their lives and their health because of common misconceptions about spit tobacco being a safe alternative to cigarettes,” said Joe Rosier, CEO/President of The Rapides Foundation. “Rick Bender will educate Central Louisiana youth and adults on the dangers of spit tobacco so they are aware that it is not safe or even a safe alternative to other forms of tobacco.”

After almost losing his life to cancer caused by spit tobacco, Rick now travels around the country trying to educate others about the truth about spit tobacco. In “Giving People Something Else to Chew On,” Bender explains what happened to him because of tobacco, how the tobacco industry targets its next users and shows adults and children alike the warning signs of cancer caused by spit tobacco.

“The presentation is designed to give young people the tools to make a choice, hopefully the better choice,” Bender said. “I’m not telling people what to do. I’m just showing them what happened to me and showing them the warning signs.”

Though he says traveling more than 100 days out of each year is difficult, it’s the impact he sees he is making when kids hand him their cans of spit tobacco at the end of his presentation that keeps him going.

Along with appearances at several junior and senior high schools in Central Louisiana, Bender will speak to adults in Allen, Natchitoches and Rapides parishes, though all are invited to attend. All of Bender’s community presentations are free and open to the public.

On Friday, Oct. 15, Bender will speak at a Lunch & Learn for employers interested in learning about starting a tobacco-free workplace program. The event will be at Country Inn & Suites in Pineville from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Pre-registration is required for this free lunch. Interested employers should contact the Foundation by Tuesday, Oct. 12 at 318-443-3394 to register.

On Monday, Oct. 18, Bender will speak at the Mowad Civic Center, 213 South 10th Street, in Oakdale at 6 p.m.

On Tuesday, Oct. 19, Bender will speak at the Alexandria Mall in the center court at 6 p.m.

Finally, on Wednesday, Oct. 20, Bender will speak at the Northwestern State University Student Center in Natchitoches at 6 p.m.

For more information about these events, contact The Rapides Foundation at 443-3394 or (800) 994-3394.
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