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Rise In Youth Smokeless Tobacco Use

April 15, 2010

The growing use of smokeless tobacco, chewing tobacco and snuff by teenagers is causing great concerns for health experts, who suggest athletes in Major League Baseball are inadvertently influencing young people to take up the dangerous habit.

The use of smokeless tobacco by teens has increased in recent years, overturning a long trend in declining usage of all tobacco products by teens, Terry Pechacek of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told a U.S. congressional panel. Data that will be released in the next few months will show an increase in the use of smokeless tobacco products in mostly white and Hispanic teen males, he said.

Pechacek said the problem has been steadily rising over the past several years, adding that the CDC is concerned most high school students think smokeless tobacco is much safer than cigarettes. But, the truth of the matter is, smokeless tobacco can cause cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and even pancreas.

Joe Garagiola, a former baseball player, sportscaster, and one-time user of chewing tobacco, said the league should ban the use of smokeless tobacco by its players. “Like many other players I thought being a Major League player meant you had to chew,” he told the Reuters in a recent interview. He said he decided to quit when his daughter asked him if he was going to die from it.

“Get together guys, ban tobacco and anyone who uses it is penalized. Get it out of our game,” he said.

Tobacco products have been banned from the Minor League since 1993. Extending the ban to the majors would have to be done as a collective bargaining agreement with the players union, Robert Manfred, executive vice president for labor relations and human resource for Major League Baseball, told the committee.

The ban is currently opposed by the union, according to David Prouty, the chief labor counsel for the Major League Baseball Players Association. “We believe baseball players should not be prohibited from using substances that are perfectly legal and available to the general public,” he told the panel.

According to research, about one-third of Major League players report using smokeless tobacco, reports Gregory Connolly, professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

“The use of smokeless tobacco by players has a powerful role model effect on youth particularly among young males in sport, some of whom ironically remain addicted in future careers as professional athletes,” Connolly told Reuters. 

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