Data from the national Youth Risk Behavior Surveys published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shows that while the use of combustible tobacco products like cigars and cigarettes has dropped significantly from 2001-2013 in high school students, the use of smokeless tobacco like chew and snus has remained unchanged among non-athletes and has increased among high school athletes.
Athletes may be more likely to use certain tobacco products, such as smokeless tobacco, specifically if they perceive them to be harmless. This highlights the need for greater tobacco education programs, including smokeless tobacco, among youth. Just about any young person you ask will say people shouldn't smoke... unfortunately, smokeless tobacco seems harmless to many, youth and adults a like. And when our favorite childhood athletes are using tobacco, we still look up to them and want to be just like them.
Taking tobacco out of baseball is a great way to get the word out to young people that tobacco is harmful, in any form. Curt Schilling, baseball great, has been a huge advocate for tobacco prevention since being diagnosed with cancer after struggling with an addiction to chewing tobacco for years. He wrote and shared a Letter to My Younger Self about his life and how it could be different if at 16 he did not become addicted to tobacco. One of the many lines that stand out,
"You will get message after message, but your addiction will always win, until it wins the biggest battle... It's difficult for you to understand in this current phase of your life, but by chewing tobacco, you are jeopardizing your participation in what will be some of the your most important moments."It's stories like Curt's and many others that repeat the importance of keeping tobacco products out of sports. Young people look up to athletes whether they know it or not. By keeping sports tobacco free we can prevent so many young athletes from becoming addicted to tobacco.
From the east to the west coast we've seen tobacco knocked out of parks. As more and more parks do the same, hopefully we will see the number of student athletes using tobacco decline once and for all.