Published February 27, 2012
As baseball spring training gets underway, it’s more important than ever to highlight the dangers of chewing tobacco, and to implore Major League Baseball, which last year banned players from using it when fans are present, to prohibit its use altogether.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 11 percent of high school boys and 1.5 percent of high school girls (6.1 percent of all high school students) use chewing tobacco, also called smokeless tobacco, and it's just as awful for you as smoke-full tobacco.
Whether kids and teenagers pick up this nasty habit because their friends do it, or because they've seen professional athletes do it, or because it’s easier to hide from their parents than the smell of cigarettes, the use of chewing tobacco needs to be discouraged with the same vigor as that of cigarettes.
For starters, the name “smokeless tobacco” needs to go out the window. It makes chewing tobacco sound like a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes, which it most certainly is not. This sort of deception is to be expected from the tobacco industry, but why does the public perpetuate the myth? Smokeless is not harmless, and parents and teachers need to hammer that message home to kids, early and often.
Chewing tobacco is poisonous, and it is addictive. According to the CDC, it contains 28 cancer-causing agents; leads to gum disease, tooth decay, and precancerous oral lesions called leukoplakia; increases the risk of preeclampsia in pregnant women and reduced sperm count in men. It often results in low-birth weight or premature birth for innocent newborns.
So, basically, all the same really bad stuff as cigarettes, only with a less scary-sounding name.
Like other bad habits, using tobacco in one form often leads to using it in another form. Teens who light up are likely to chew at some point, and vice versa, according to the website KidsHealth.org. And as with alcohol, where more is required over time to achieve the same buzz that a little bit once offered, people who chew tobacco often turn to stronger brands when lighter ones no longer provide the same sensation.
The first time many youngsters are exposed to chewing tobacco is by way of their favorite athletes, in particular baseball players, who are frequently caught on camera with bulges in their cheeks and lower lips, spitting onto the ground. This practice is so ingrained in popular culture that in the 1980s a shredded chewing gum called Big League Chew hit the market, and remains popular to this day.
Many athletes turn to chewing tobacco because smoke is harmful to the lungs, but so-called smokeless tobacco is just as terrible for the body. Though the Major League Baseball’s decision to ban players from using chewing tobacco when fans are present is a step in the right direction, it seems like the league is afraid to outright ban its employees from using tobacco, as some hospitals and other health-conscious employers have done. Simply put, the MLB is doing as little as possible to keep all parties happy.
Just a few weeks ago, the beloved former San Diego Padre Tony Gwynn, a Hall-of-Famer, underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his cheek, a condition Gwynn himself believes was the result of an addiction to chewing tobacco. Given Gwynn’s admission, and the scores of other players who have doubtless suffered the negative health consequences of chewing tobacco, the timing is right for the MLB to forbid players from using it at all—smokeless or not—and to provide support to those who are so addicted they cannot quit on their own.
It’s that kind of approach that will grab attention, show a commitment to health, and send the right message to kids—most of whom pay closer attention to professional athletes than to their parents.
Deirdre Imus, Founder of the site devoted to environmental health, dienviro.org, is President and Founder of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center™ at Hackensack University Medical Center and Co-Founder/Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. She is a New York Times best-selling author and a frequent contributor to FoxNewsHealth.com, Fox Business Channel and Fox News Channel. Check out her website at dienviro.org, 'Like' her Facebook page here.