Baseball great Tony Gwynn's untimely death is an unfortunate reminder of how nicotine is a silent killer with any number of different kinds of cancers lying in wait to strike. To his credit, before his death, Gwynn shared with the world the deadly consequences of using tobacco, but will we listen?
All tobacco products, even e-cigarettes, can be highly addictive. Many deniers choose to look at Gwynn's death as a freak circumstance and the "it can't happen to me" response is pervasive in our culture. Will such denial continue to overpower the facts? Smokeless tobacco contains almost 30 cancer-producing chemicals.
As an oral health professional, I see the initial stages of oral, gum, throat and salivary gland cancers all too often. For the purposes of this conversation, I will focus solely on chewing tobacco. Just in the sports industry alone, two-thirds of major league players are addicted to smokeless tobacco. That's a staggering percentage of men as well as women -- putting their very lives at risk for the sake of a nicotine high.
For both genders, cancer of the mouth and pharynx ranks sixth overall in the world.
A recent study showed that tobacco chewers have a 2-3 fold increase in nickel compared to non-chewers. Large quantities of nickel consumption increase the chances of developing chronic bronchitis and lung and nasal cancers.
In terms of etiology, the effects of tobacco use, heavy alcohol consumption, and poor diet combined account for over 90 percent of head and neck cancer cases. There are even studies that show that smokeless tobacco is more carcinogenic than smoked tobacco!
Gwynn is not the first baseball legend to dip and die, but his is the most recent and his death should stick in our collective conscience for more than just a second. I find it appalling that the baseball union proposes continuing player education about tobacco cessation as opposed to a ban. So many young people, especially high school-age boys, are influenced by seeing their baseball heroes dipping that it's become as natural to them as another staple of baseball life: hot dogs.
The rush from the nicotine isn't worth the risks of devastating consequences of lives cut way too short. It's a self-destructive habit that is known to lead to mouth, tongue, cheek, gum and throat cancers. As naive or Pollyanna as this may sound, I have to suggest another type of rush. Chocolate. The caffeine in a piece of 75 percent dark chocolate provides a natural increase in endorphins, and so it makes for a great alternative to the nasty and health destroying aspects of smokeless tobacco.