The passing of baseball legend Tony Gwynn has started a much needed debate about smokeless tobacco and its use by baseball players of all ages.
Smokeless tobacco is referred to as dip, snuff or chew and has been banned in dugouts in high school, college, and professional minor league baseball. However, while Major League Baseball (MLB) recognizes the harmful effects, it is not banned. You still see many players use it during games. In 2011, with the urging from public groups such as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the MLB opened a Tobacco Cessation Center that offers educational sessions to their players and staff about the dangers. They are hoping to break this long standing tradition associated with baseball.
Dr. Donald Marger, Oral, Head and Neck Cancer expert at First Dayton CyberKnife, explains that “the cancer causing chemicals in smokeless tobacco is no different that in cigarettes and pipes. While they will not contribute to your risk for lung cancer, there is still danger of cancers of the tongue, floor of mouth, throat, gums, cheeks and lips.” Oral, head and neck cancer affects 55,070 newly diagnosed Americans each year with approximately 12,000 deaths. Other health issues include severe dental problems and the terrible staining of the teeth.
Many MLB players and coaches claim to only use dip while in uniform. They say it is simply a habit and a way to relax and pass the time during a game. David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox only puts snuff in his mouth while he is at bat. Others admit it is a terrible addiction that they simply cannot break and they wish they had never started.
“Cancer of the oral cavity, besides being potentially fatal, almost invariably results in marked physical deformity, swallowing problems, difficulty with speech and breathing. The primary treatment is radical surgery followed by radiation therapy”, explains Dr. Marger.
The debate is not whether dip is harmful ‑‑ clearly it is. The debate is whether or not we want our children looking up to their baseball all-stars and emulating their behavior. At the thousands of baseball fields around our country you see t-ballers chewing bubble gum, high schoolers spitting seeds and professionals spitting tobacco. Would it have made a difference to Tony Gwynn or the many other baseball players with these cancers if someone had told them to never start? Does it need to remain a part of America’s most beloved sport?