While smokeless tobacco has not been completely banished from baseball, Delta Dental applauds Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) during Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week for making a positive step toward completely eliminating tobacco’s visibility from impressionable young fans. Under a recent agreement, MLB players, managers and coaches will no longer be able to carry a smokeless tobacco tin or package in their uniforms during games or when fans are in stadiums. Additionally, they will be prohibited from “chewing” during televised interviews, at autograph signings and other fan events.
Smokeless tobacco has been banned from Minor League Baseball since 1993 and from collegiate athletics since 1994. The surge of support for an outright ban on smokeless tobacco has a website, and players like Boston Red Sox outfielder Adrian Gonzalez and Chicago White Sox pitcher John Danks have recorded public service announcements speaking out against smokeless tobacco. Joe Garagiola, an 84-year-old former tobacco chewing-MLB catcher and current broadcaster, is the chairman of NSTEP, the National Spit Tobacco Education Program. NSTEP is a 17-year-old program operated by Oral Health America that educates baseball players of all ages about the dangers of chewing or “spit” tobacco.
The American Cancer Society estimated that more than 39,000 people were diagnosed with oral cancer and nearly 8,000 people died of the disease in 2011, and that men are twice as likely as women to be diagnosed.1 Tobacco use is considered a major risk factor for the development of oral cancers. Whether they like it or not, athletes serve as role models for impressionable children and teens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Study found that more than 11 percent of male high school students and four percent of male middle school students were current smokeless tobacco users.2 Though smokeless tobacco has been banned in all venues by the NCAA and MILB, a significant number of young players get hooked on the habit earlier in life.
Delta Dental puts its support and resources behind this message. Delta Dental of Tennessee, for instance, leveraged their sponsorship with the Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals) to present Oral Cancer Awareness Night at AutoZone Park. The event included oral cancer screenings performed by teachers from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Dentistry.
Delta Dental wants the professional baseball community to be aware of the inherent risks and dangers of smokeless tobacco use, and the influence that the actions of professional baseball players have on their youthful fans. We ask that – for their own health and that of their young fans – players pause next time before throwing in a dip. We applaud the progress that MLB has made in limiting tobacco use in the sport but would support a complete ban on smokeless tobacco during games when so many young fans are watching attentively.
Below is a video in which Dr. Kohn explores the relationship between smokeless tobacco use and oral cancer.
1 American Cancer Society. Oral Cancer Fact Sheet. Accessed February 2012. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@nho/documents/document/oralcancerpdf.pdf
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco Use Among Middle and High School Students—United States, 2000–2009. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2010;59(33):1063–8