Janice Milliman, Quit Coach, Service Delivery:
The World Series starts tomorrow, and when the umpire yells, "play ball," many fans will dip into their popcorn, peanuts and crackerjacks. Players, however, may dip into something much more deadly - their cans and pouches of smokeless tobacco.
On Monday, Rep. Frank Pallone, chairman of the House Health Subcommittee, sent letters to Texas Rangers President Nolan Ryan and San Francisco Giants President Larry Baer, requesting them to ban their players from using tobacco in the dugouts during the series, urging that a "ban of smokeless tobacco while players are in uniform would be a great service to this country."
Smokeless tobacco has long been associated with baseball. From the pitcher on the mound with a big wad in his lip, to the second baseman with a round object bulging from his back pocket, tobacco is part of baseball's culture. More young people these days are also trying or regularly using smokeless tobacco, on and off the mound. In 2009, approximately 15% of high school boys used smokeless tobacco. Teenage use in some states, such as Kentucky and West Virginia, is as high as 24.7%. That means for every four high school boys at least one one is a regular user.
Many people, young and old alike, see smokeless tobacco as a safe alternative to smoking. In reality, tobacco in any form is addictive and deadly. The National Cancer Institute identifies some of the 28 cancer-causing agents as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, crotonaldehyde, hydrazine, arsenic, nickel, cadmium, benzopyrene, and polonium–210. And using smokeless tobacco also brings the risk of the oral health problems--gum recession, gingivitis, and cavities.
The life-changing effects of tobacco have become painfully evident for many players. Bill Tuttle, an outfielder in the 1950s and '60s, became an outspoken anti-tobacco advocate after losing his lower jaw to oral cancer. Just recently, Tony Gwynn, a Major League Baseball 15-time hall of famer, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer of the salivary gland. While there are other potential causes of mouth and throat cancer, Gwynn suspects it was caused by many years of tobacco use.
Tobacco use is still commonplace for baseball players, though efforts to reduce availability, access, and use in the MLB have made a great impact. The Minor League lead the charge in 1993 by completely banning tobacco, with the goal of reducing the number of players who become regular users. As of 1998 tobacco companies are no longer allowed to leave complimentary tobacco tins or boxes in league clubhouses. MLB clubs themselves are also banned from providing tobacco to players. Players caught using tobacco at the ballpark, on team buses or in team hotels can face fines of up to $1,000.
In the near future we may also see a tobacco ban in the Major Leagues. MLB Executive Vice President Rob Manfred feels a ban is an obtainable goal. He continues to work with the players' union, who is willing to discuss a ban but acknowledges players will be resistant.
Of a potential ban, A's infielder Eric Chavez said, "I would be for it. I don't do it. Sometimes when I'm watching the games you see a guy throw in a big dip and the camera focuses in on it, I know kids are watching. You want guys to be able to do what they want. Everyone is an adult, but you also have to be aware of the message that you send to kids. ... Since I don't dip, I think I'd be an advocate for trying to get it out of the game, or at least off the field."
Professional athletes, regardless of the sport, are viewed as role models. Although Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane is a tobacco user, he conscientiously avoids displaying it publicly as much as possible. For example, he makes TV reporters wait until after he removes the bulge in his lip. Ryan Ludwick of the San Diego Padres is ashamed of using tobacco: "I know it's not a healthy habit. It's not something I'm proud of doing." I give my sincere appreciation to players who, even if they use tobacco, are aware of their influence on fans.
At the time of this posting, we have yet to hear as to whether Mr. Ryan and Mr. Baer will urge their players to abstain from tobacco use while on the field this week. But the foundation has been set. If you want help quitting smokeless tobacco, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW. We may not be able to hit a home run, but we can help you quit tobacco, whether sold in a pack or a can.