Gazette opinion: Mr. Padre and the trouble with smokeless tobacco

2014-06-19T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Mr. Padre and the trouble with smokeless tobacco The Billings Gazette
June 19, 2014 12:00 am

Nationwide, fewer high school students are smoking, according to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey 2013 released last week. Unfortunately, there was no decrease in use of smokeless tobacco.

That information ought to light a fire under parents and health advocates with the death this week of Tony Gwynn, San Diego’s “Mr. Padre,” who became a baseball Hall of Famer. Gwynn, 54, died of oral cancer, which he attributed to his tobacco chewing habit. Professional baseball and smokeless tobacco have a long, unhealthy history.

Montana and Wyoming long have had some of the highest rates of youth smokeless tobacco use in the nation, and that hasn’t changed, according to the latest YRBS from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationwide last year, 8.3 percent of high school students reported current use of smokeless tobacco, including 2.8 percent of girls and 13.5 percent of boys.

- In Montana, 13.4 percent of all high school students use smokeless tobacco, including 4.5 percent of girls and 21.6 percent of boys.

- In Wyoming, 14.2 percent of high school students use chew or snuff, including 5.7 percent of girls and 21.9 percent of boys.

Only North Dakota and a few Southern tobacco-growing states had higher usage of smokeless tobacco.

In Montana and Wyoming, high school boys are more likely to use smokeless tobacco than to smoke cigarettes, according to the survey. Girls, however, smoke cigarettes at triple the rate they use smokeless tobacco, so the percentage of Montana and Wyoming students smoking is slightly higher than the percentage chewing/dipping snuff.

Regardless of whether tobacco is smoked or smokeless, it’s still a huge health risk for the user. More than one in four Montana and Wyoming high school students was using some type of tobacco products last year. That was 26.9 percent in Wyoming and 26.7 percent in Montana, compared with 19.6 percent nationwide.

Teen cigar smokers

Furthermore, a surprising proportion of high school students report smoking cigars: one in five boys plus one in 10 girls in both Montana and Wyoming. Nationally, 8 percent of girls and 16 percent of boys reported current cigar smoking.

The percentage of teens smoking in Montana and Wyoming has dropped significantly over the past 10 years, but not the percentage using smokeless tobacco. There is no safe form of tobacco, according to the National Cancer Institute. At least 28 chemicals in smokeless tobacco have been found to cause cancer. Smokeless tobacco causes oral cancer, esophageal cancer, and pancreatic cancer Using smokeless tobacco may also cause heart disease, gum disease, and oral lesions such as precancerous white patches in the mouth.

All tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco, contain nicotine, which is addictive and stays in the blood longer for users of smokeless tobacco than for smokers.

Even professional baseball is starting to get the message. Minor League Baseball has banned smokeless tobacco and the majors have at least stopped handing it out in clubhouses.

Many ballplayers are addicted to smokeless tobacco. Gwynn chewed throughout his 20-year MLB career.

It’s hard to quit. The best solution is to never start.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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