(NNPA) - The United States House of Representatives Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Health, chaired by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), recently brought to light smokeless tobacco use among major league baseball players and how this may influence the health of young fans who idolize these athletes. The first pitch of the 2010 season was thrown last month, making this an ideal time for Congress and Major League Baseball (MLB) to renew its commitment to ending the use of smokeless tobacco products – both on and off the field.
The effects of tobacco have a very significant impact on the African-American community. Twenty-one percent of all adult African-Americans smoke, with the effects of tobacco consumption leading to 45,000 deaths per year. Further, tobacco use leads to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer. Cardiovascular disease is the primary cause of death in the United States among African-Americans, with an estimated 30 percent of these mortalities resulting from tobacco use.
Despite actions taken by the MLB to disassociate themselves from smokeless tobacco – including the 1993 implementation of a ban on the use of tobacco products for all minor-league personnel (players, managers and umpires), while providing education and cessation programs – the sport of baseball and smokeless tobacco have long been linked with one another.
A ten-year study conducted from 1991 through 2000 showed a decrease in smokeless tobacco product use in a professional baseball organization from 41.1 percent in year one to 25.6 percent in year 10 . Though use among major league baseball players has decreased since the ban, tobacco use is still common among players and the general public, supporting the need for continued cessation messaging specific to smokeless tobacco products.
According to data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 3.2 percent of Americans ages 12 and older use smokeless tobacco products with an additional 0.6 percent beginning to use these products each year. With many cities and states across the United States adopting smoke-free policies for establishments and public areas, tobacco companies have amplified their marketing efforts of smokeless tobacco products to current smokers as an alternative to cigarettes in smoke-free areas. Smokeless tobacco products are similarly addictive and are not a safe substitution for cigarette use, having been linked to oral and pancreatic cancers, as well as heart disease . Youth who begin using smokeless tobacco are also more likely to begin smoking cigarettes later in life.
Tragically, more than 400,000 people in the United States lose their lives annually to tobacco-related illnesses. We applaud Chairman Pallone for continuing to bring attention to this issue and working to cease the use of tobacco products among influential athletes, helping us succeed in our overall mission in creating a smoke-free world where youth reject tobacco and anyone can access the tools they need to quit.
Legacy is dedicated to building a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit. Located in Washington, D.C., the national public health organization helps Americans live longer, healthier lives.
Legacy develops programs that address the health effects of tobacco use, especially among vulnerable populations disproportionately affected by the toll of tobacco, through grants, technical assistance and training, partnerships, youth activism, and counter-marketing and grassroots marketing campaigns.
The foundation’s programs include truth®, a national youth smoking prevention campaign that has been cited as having contributed to significant declines in youth smoking; EX®, an innovative public health program designed to speak to smokers in their own language and change the way they approach quitting; and research initiatives exploring the causes, consequences and approaches to reducing tobacco use. The American Legacy Foundation was created as a result of the November 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) reached between attorneys general from 46 states, five U.S. territories and the tobacco industry. Visit www.legacyforhealth.org.
Cheryl Healton is president and CEO of Legacy.