With the death last year of Major League Baseball star Tony Gwynn from salivary gland cancer, the subject of removing smokeless tobacco from baseball has received much more attention.
Smokeless tobacco presents the athletes who use it numerous health risks, including an increased risk of various forms of oral cancer and lesions in the mouth that can become cancerous. Its use can also lead to gum disease and tooth loss.
And despite bans on it by the NCAA and the minor leagues, some believe that up to one-third of baseball players use it. A Boston Globe survey of the 58 Red Sox players recently found that 21 of them admitted to using it.
Worse yet, younger people seem to use it more than we would like. According to a 2012 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 11% of male high school students are current smokeless tobacco users.
According to current Major League Baseball rules, teams cannot provide tobacco products to players. Clubhouse attendants are advised not to purchase tobacco for players. Also, players cannot have tobacco tins in their uniform pockets or do televised interviews while using smokeless tobacco.
Because smokeless tobacco use is prohibited in the minor leagues and most levels of amateur baseball, many younger players arrive in the majors unfamiliar with it.
It’s time that we eliminate use of smokeless tobacco among baseball players. If MLB and its players can agree on banning its use, it would set a good example that younger baseball players shouldn’t use it either.
Regardless of what happens in future negotiations at the professional levels, we must do everything we can to keep young athletes from starting to use it in the first place.
Parents, coaches, and team doctors should educate kids of the risks of smokeless tobacco use. Everyone must serve as good role models. If kids never start using smokeless tobacco, they will never become addicted to it.