The NIDA Blog Team
October 30 2015

To the excitement of baseball fans everywhere, the World Series is taking place this week. As you follow your favorite players throughout the games, be mindful of the ways you may imitate these professional athletes. Picking up great workout and training habits can help with your game, but some of the players’ other habits could hurt you.

Chewing tobacco has been a tradition in professional baseball for decades. You’ve probably seen players stuffing wads of chewing tobacco into their mouths—and spitting out brown streams of tobacco juice—during games. You may admire the players who chew tobacco. However, using chewing tobacco, or as players sometimes call it, “dipping,” can be harmful to your health. In fact, it can be every bit as dangerous as smoking tobacco.

Several famous baseball players who have developed oral cancer—cancer in their mouth and/or throat—have blamed it on their chewing-tobacco habit.

Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn died in 2014 after battling cancer of the salivary gland. American League star Curt Shilling has so far survived his throat cancer, but his salivary glands had to be removed and he can no longer taste or smell anything. Some teen athletes who’ve used it later developed oral cancer, too. In some cases, tobacco chewers even have to get their jaw removed to remove all the cancer.

Imitation is the sincerest form of...risk

How many teen athletes are using smokeless tobacco? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found high school athletes on sports teams use it at a higher rate than non-athletes do—and that the number is rising. Between 2001 and 2013, use of smokeless tobacco increased from 10 percent to 11.1 percent among young athletes.

That may sound like a small increase, but there are over 10 million young athletes (ages 13–17) playing on sports teams in the U.S. With the increase, that means smokeless tobacco is now used by approximately one million, one hundred nineteen thousand (1,119,000) teens.

But here’s the ironic part: even as more teen athletes have been “dipping,” the number of pro players who do it has been declining. Years ago at least half of Major League Baseball (MLB) players chewed tobacco; today, about a third of them do.

Two strikes down

Just recently, several cities and now a state have banned the use of smokeless tobacco at MLB games. San Francisco was the first city to announce a ban, this past May; Los Angeles and Boston did it in September; and earlier this month, California—home to five of 30 teams in the League—banned the substance at MLB games. (The League already bans chewing tobacco at minor-league games.)

What’s next for chewing tobacco in baseball? It’s hard to say for sure, but the trend is clear: chewing tobacco is on the decline among professional baseball players, and following that trend is good for your game. 

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