Take me out to ... learn how to dip?
Do you support banning smokeless tobacco at ballparks?
Chewing and dipping are as common place in baseball as peanuts and CRACKER JACKs®. And the imprint of a can of smokeless tobacco in a kid’s jean is embedded in many Texan’s mind. This video made the rounds on YouTube of a dad possibly sharing a dip, and at the very least mimicking the habit, with his son at a Texas Rangers game in 2012.
But in recent years, the link between major league baseball, chewing or dipping and mouth cancer has received national attention. First Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn died and then last year retired all-star pitcher Curt Schilling was diagnosed. Both players blamed their years of chewing and dipping for their respective diagnoses of mouth cancer.
Next year, San Francisco will ban all smokeless tobacco from its public fields, including AT&T Park. Other cities, including Schilling’s old stomping grounds of Boston, are considering a similar ban. Schilling says it’s the right move for the young people who watch America’s pastime.
"This is about our kids," Schilling said at a recent event in Boston. "We have to accept the responsibility that we impact the decisions and the choices that they make."
But not all baseball players feel the same as Schilling. Giants ace Madison Bumgarner said in an interview with The New York Times that he’s dipped since the fifth grade and continues to do so “pretty much all the time.”
The same story reported that the Major League Baseball Players Association opposes any ban on smokeless tobacco.
Pro baseball has taken steps to curb the public image of ballplayers using tobacco:
- Players aren’t allowed to dip during televised interviews.
- They can’t carry cans of smokeless tobacco while fans are in the park.
- Dipping is banned from minor league parks.
Schilling, the former Boston Red Sox pitcher was renowned for his toughness and playing with a bloody sock in the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees. But nothing prepared him for what he endured after being diagnosed with cancer in the mouth of 2014.
“You’ll lose your sense of taste, you’ll lose your sense of smell, your gums will bleed, your teeth will rot – that is if you’re lucky,” Schilling said on ESPN’s Mike & Mike. “If you’re not you will wind up in the hospital receiving radiation above the neck.”
And whether or not the child in the video was using smokeless tobacco, the average age of a Texas teen using smokeless tobacco is 13. Four percent of Texas adults use smokeless tobacco, yet 8 percent of Texas youth use it. Texas kids are actually below the national average of smokeless tobacco users.
The latest survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that cigarette smoking has gone down since 1999, but smokeless tobacco use has remained steady. Nationally, 14.7 percent of high-school boys and 8.8 percent of all high-school students reported current use of smokeless tobacco products.
You may have heard that dipping or chewing is safer than smoking cigarettes. But the American Legacy Foundation says, “Dippers may be exposed to more cancer-causing chemicals than a one-pack-a-day cigarette smoker, based on the higher nicotine levels per serving in tobacco.” In addition, different forms of smokeless tobacco may have different levels of nicotine and cancer-causing agents.
“One of the major problems of the use of smokeless tobacco in teenagers is that they often have a difficult time understanding long term risks,” said Justin Smith, M.D., a Cook Children’s pediatrician. “If there are not immediate consequences, it may be difficult to convince them that they can be harmful. They might be more likely to be convinced by the argument that their teeth could stain or breath could stink than by a conversation about mouth cancer.”
For this reason, Dr. Smith recommends a frank discussion with teenagers about both the short and long-term consequences of smokeless tobacco use with teenagers.
If you need some talking points, check out this letter written from Curt Schilling to his 16 year old younger self. Better yet, have your teenager read it; it’s powerful.
About the source
Justin Smith, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician in Lewisville . He attended University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School and did his pediatric training at Baylor College of Medicine. He joins Cook Children's after practicing in his hometown of Abilene for four years. He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his 3 young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues.