If you’re like me, this is a great time of year for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being March Madness and the baseball season ready to start in the beginning of April. Speaking of baseball, I’m proud of my professional organization, the American Dental Association (ADA). They recently joined with some other medical organizations to change something that I’ve always hated about Major League Baseball: chewing tobacco.
Last summer the ADA joined with the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Medical Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Legacy, Oral Health America, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in penning a letter to Bud Selig (MLB commissioner at the time, he stepped down in January 2015) and Tony Clark (MLB Players Association Executive Director). The event sparking the letter was the death of Padres legend Tony Gwynn, one of the best batters and right fielders I’ve ever seen in my life. Gwynn, a model of consistency both on defense and at the plate, and a great human being by all accounts, died from salivary gland cancer, the result of years of chewing smokeless tobacco. In their letter to the top baseball executives, the ADA, et al. stated the following:
“Major League Baseball and the Players Association can honor Tony Gwynn’s memory by agreeing to a complete prohibition on tobacco use at ballparks and on camera. Our organizations urge you to do so without delay. Use of smokeless tobacco endangers the health of Major League ballplayers. It also sets a terrible example for the millions of young people who watch baseball at the ballpark or on TV and often see players and managers using tobacco.”
Although small in comparison, I’d like to add my voice to these health organizations in getting chewing tobacco kicked out of baseball. In dental school and in my Orem, Utah dental office, I’ve seen enough cases of oral cancer and precancerous conditions to know that chewing tobacco is dangerous, deadly stuff. It breaks my heart whenever I inspect someone’s mouth and see signs of potential oral cancer—an almost completely preventable variety of cancer. Although the evidence is abundant and crystal clear that smoking and chewing are terrible for health, the tobacco industry has a firm grip on the culture in way too many places in our country. Phillip Morris and others spend amazing amounts of money, even record amounts, to enslave our children and young athletes. On the list of things I don’t want my four year-old son to have to battle in his life, substance addiction is possibly the top item. The agenda of tobacco companies—trading our country’s health for big profits—makes me absolutely sick.
Former commissioner Selig responded to the letter saying that he supported a ban on smokeless tobacco, but that his hands were tied. When a ban was proposed during the last collective bargaining agreement, the MLB Players Association—the organization which represents the players themselves—refused any deal that included a ban on smokeless tobacco. Too many players are addicted to chewing and unwilling to give up their habits. It’s interesting that of all the issues and details that need to be haggled over in a collective bargaining process, the issue of tobacco became a deal-breaker for players. The issue is scheduled to be proposed and addressed again when the current agreement expires in 2016. Come on baseball, do the right thing!
Go Red Sox!
-Nicolas K. Young, DMD