We all know the health hazards of tobacco, but most of us think about smoking and cigarettes when we hear the words “tobacco” or “nicotine.” Now, smokeless, or chewing tobacco is getting its time in the media and it’s hitting America’s favorite pastime – baseball.
Tobacco in any form is dangerous, and many speculate it might loosely be considered a gateway to other drugs. Maybe not, but most would agree it is often seen as a complementary drug, as quite a few people use tobacco products when they’re drinking. But the bigger picture is young kids look up to pro athletes as role models. If they see them using tobacco products of any kind, they might be more inclined to use them as well to be just like their heroes.
Tobacco use, which leads to nicotine addiction, is still the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. This includes smokeless tobacco that users place between their cheek and gum. Though it’s in decline, the habit of “dipping” has long been a staple in major league baseball, influencing generations of kids, but it might be on its way out.
In a first to the plate move, the mayor of San Francisco, Edwin M. Lee, signed an ordinance that bans smokeless tobacco in all public athletic fields in the city. Going into effect in January 2016, fans, as well as players on the San Francisco Giants and all visiting teams, will not be able to indulge their tobacco habits in AT&T Park. Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, is hopeful the ban will make its way across all of major league baseball.
Smokeless or “chewing” tobacco is not a safe alternative to smoking. Researchers at the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 9.9 percent of high school boys and 1.2 percent of girls use smokeless tobacco products, which leads to a greater likelihood that they will turn to smoking later.
With 28 known cancer-causing chemicals, smokeless tobacco use leads to some of the following:
- Leukoplakia – precancerous oral lesions in the mouth
- Cheek, throat, esophagus cancers
- Gum disease
- Tooth loss
- Low sperm count in men
- Increase risk of preeclampsia in pregnant women
- Premature and low birth-weight in newborns
Whether or not tobacco use among kids is a gateway to harder drugs is up for debate, but research has shown that those suffering from addiction issues are more likely to have a nicotine dependency. In an interview with The New York Times about the smokeless tobacco ban, Myers said, “It’s something simple and straightforward that will have an effect, literally, on millions of young boys.”
Currently, major league baseball players are not allowed to use smokeless tobacco during televised interviews or carry cans or pouches of it while fans are in the park. When it comes to an outright ban, however, the players union is balking, and insiders have said that talks have been downright contentious. A popular opinion among the players, as relief pitcher for the Giants, George Kontos, put it, “We’re all grown-ups. You should be able to make your own decisions.
Baseball hall of famer, Tony Gwynn, died last year after a long battle with cancer of the mouth and salivary glands. Gwynn attributed his cancer to the smokeless tobacco that he chewed throughout his career. His passing has brought more attention to this controversy, but MLB executives seem hesitant to forbid players from “dipping” during games. This why some stadium owners and civic leaders have stepped in, and much like the smoking ban in cities across the country, the ban is gaining momentum.
“It will turn in to an inevitability,” Myers told the Times. “This is going to happen. The only question is, will it happen in enough cities so that baseball is tobacco-free by next year? Or will it take one more year?”