Tony Gwynn’s cancer: Time for big leaguers to take responsibility for youngsters using smokeless tobacco

Tony Gwynn thinks his cancer is caused by his smokeless tobacco addiction.

Tony Gwynn is San Diego’s favorite son. He’s like Ernie Banks to Chicago or Derek Jeter to New York, only San Diego is a smaller, more familiar kind of place, so our local heroes are much more real life-like. When news broke that he’s suffering from cancer of the parotid gland – the largest of the salivary glands located between the ear and the mouth — local news and sports websites were full of warm letters and comments wishing him well and telling him that the community has his back. And that’s great. But there’s more to the story.

Tony Gwynn believes his cancer is caused by his long-time smokeless tobacco use – or addiction, let’s call it what it is. So far, there’s no evidence that salivary gland cancer is caused by smokeless tobacco use. Several studies say that no such link has been found. However, studies have shown a “positive association” between smoking tobacco and parotid gland cancer. So the jury may still be out. Anyway, tobacco is definitely a dangerous carcinogen…

We know smokeless tobacco is linked to other types of cancer and to additional health problems (I won’t gross you out with the pictures, but the last link will). And we know that smokeless tobacco is a particular problem in baseball.  A study published in Tobacco Control of 39 high schools in California found that 45 percent of high school ball players had tried smokeless tobacco. Among all males ages 12-24, that figure is only about 3 percent to 4 percent.

Hey, big leaguers -- where do you think these kids learned it?

Why do so many more high school ballplayers chew tobacco compared to other boys and young men? It’s not rocket science: Young ballplayers chew because their role models — big leaguers — chew.

Tony Gwynn could help change all that. Everybody knows Tony Gwynn. He’s a Hall of Famer who is still very involved in baseball, including as coach at San Diego State University. Through coaching and scouting, he’s connected with young ballplayers across the country. He’s one of the most respected people in the game (and that’s not just my San Diego bias talking).

A public awareness campaign? No, that’s not going to solve this problem. The only way to stop teen ballplayers from chewing is for Major League Baseball to ban smokeless tobacco, just like the minor leagues and college ball already have done. Smokeless tobacco is still allowed in MLB because of the players union. There’s an effort in Congress to twist arms of MLB and the players union to ban the stuff, but that effort hasn’t gotten very far. If Tony Gwynn and other major leaguers got involved, and helped lean on the players union, maybe this could get done.

Major league ballplayers, including Tony Gwynn, need to face up to the fact that their tobacco addiction is the reason why so many young ballplayers get addicted to chewing tobacco. Big leaguers need to own up to that responsibility. Tony Gwynn could be a big help.

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This entry was posted in Addiction, Recovery, Smokeless tobacco, Substance abuse, Tobacco, Tobacco and kids, Tobacco marketing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Tony Gwynn’s cancer: Time for big leaguers to take responsibility for youngsters using smokeless tobacco

  1. pedestrian08 says:

    It’s the tragedy of all major sponsored sports, that our sports stars lead their young followers down the path of addiction, ill health and sometimes death via their receipt of sponsorships via Big Liquor and sometimes Big Tobacco.
    In every major nation, phony nationalism is employed by these souless, heartless corporations, in order to increase consumption of their chosen drug of sale. Which flag do they raise? Whichever one the ad agency is currently employed in.
    Every ‘major league’ ball player (of any code, any nation), should look at themselves as being personally responsible for the illness, deaths and injuries of so many of their young followers.
    Suck that up, that responsibility. It’s yours, live with it.

  2. Jeff Blum says:

    Good piece. Yes, Tony would be an ideal spokes-mouth for culture change. I remember seeing a very gross story on “60 Minutes” some years back about a fellow who lost half his jaw to cancer – caused by chewing tobacco!

  3. Snus and smokeless tobacco most certainly are NOT harmless. Even the tobacco industry itself admits these smokeless tobacco and other tobacco products (OTPs) to be harmful!

    Public health concerns regarding smokeless, snus, OTPs include the following:
    – They may be viewed as a safe alternative to smoking.
    – They are potentially a gateway to cigarette and other tobacco use by youth.
    – Many smokers will adopt the use of these products when they cannot or prefer not to smoke (and thus become dual addicted to an additional tobacco product with confirmed and significant health risks).
    – Some smokers will use these other tobacco products as a means of smoking cessation, only to find that they are not able to quit either tobacco product.

    Every day that major league baseball ignores the obvious public health concerns and cases such as Tony Gwinn’s documented cancer, more and more kids (as well as young adults) could become addicted when emulating their baseball hero. Moreover, MLB is ignoring the considerable public health improvement can be attained by adopting a ban on tobacco products “on or about” every major league field and complex!!

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