Gruen von Behren was 13 years old when he took his first pinch of smokeless tobacco; four years later, he faced 13 hours of initial surgery to fight the squamous cell carcinoma that would lead to the removal of much of his tongue and jaw.

Now 27, von Behren has undergone 40 additional surgeries and lives a life of crusading against tobacco use, particularly by young people. The Riverton Parke Jr.-Sr. High School student body heard his message loud and clear in a hushed gymnasium April 1.

“I am the face of tobacco,” von Behren told the students. I hope to scare the pants of off you.” By the looks on many of the students’ faces, he did just that.

“While we have been in this gym for the last 45 minutes,” von Behren said, “36 people have died across this country from cancer caused by tobacco.”

The program was sponsored by the local VOICE chapter. For more information about the organization go to

Riverton Parke junior Michael Burkhammer introduced von Behren.

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