Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Snuffing out tobacco use in Major League Baseball

I love baseball.  I’ve been a fan ever since I can remember.  I have fond memories of going to the “house that Ruth built” in the Bronx and rooting for my heroes.  I played stick ball with the boys on the block and was on teams throughout my youth and into adulthood.  Not only did baseball (and softball) keep me active, but it taught me the values of being a team player. 

Yesterday I joined Health Commissioners from 14 other cities with Major League Baseball teams to urge MLB to prohibit the use smokeless tobacco.  Baseball players are an inspiration to millions of children and adults throughout the country. They should provide positive role models and take a stand against smokeless tobacco. 

Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than
400,000 people each year. As cigarette smoking has declined, the tobacco industry has increased its
marketing of smokeless products and is spending record sums to promote them. But smokeless tobacco
use is itself very dangerous, causing serious diseases of the mouth, including oral cancer. In addition,
there is reason to worry that smokeless tobacco use by young persons may serve as a gateway to
cigarette smoking, this nation’s leading preventable cause of premature death and disease.

In his post "Motivation to quit chewing tobacco," Dr. Stephen Matarazzo, D.M.D., shares a poignant testimonial from Joe Garagiola, former ball player who regrets ever picking up the habit. He quotes Garagiola as saying:

“I chewed tobacco because it seemed to be the thing to do if you were playing baseball,” says Garagiola. “Everybody chewed when I was playing, and nobody knew the dangers of it.” But he’s seen the dangers since, losing three close friends to oral cancer and seeing the harmful effects of spit tobacco on other people.

“You won’t die of gum disease or yellow teeth, but develop oral cancer and it’s a terrible way to go,” Garagiola says. “Here you are with oral cancer from using spit tobacco, your jaw has been removed and you have to eat through a tube. You die one piece at a time. Spit tobacco is a horrible, horrible thing. I just wish I could get this message across to everyone.”

I urge you to join Garagiola and others as we speak out against smokeless tobacco. We need MLB to help us promote tobacco free lives.

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