Fewer professional baseball players are using smokeless tobacco, and consequently reporting fewer unhealthy oral conditions. A 10-year study of a professional baseball club links the two factors, noting that changes in league rules regarding tobacco and regular education and support for tobacco cessation programs may explain the declining use. The study is the first to report annual data on smokeless tobacco use and its harmful effects on professional baseball players over this length of time. It is published in the July issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise®, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
Smokeless tobacco (also called “spit tobacco”) has long been associated with baseball and its professional athletes. To gauge whether patterns of use and negative health effects change among this high-risk group, researchers performed 2,266 mouth examinations on players and management of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball club during spring training camps from 1991 to 2000. The average sample size of participants ranged from 190 to 259 annually.
The prevalence of smokeless tobacco use declined from 41 percent (year one) to 25 percent (year 10). Tobacco users were likely to possess oral leukoplakia (lesions or patches in and around the mouth that can progress to oral cancer), but as the overall prevalence of smokeless tobacco use fell, the presence of these lesions declined in this entire player population (from 22 to 9 percent).
“Over the course of our study, a significant number of the players expressed a desire to quit using smokeless tobacco. The percentage wanting to quit almost doubled from 29 percent in 1991 to 52 percent in 2000,” said Keith Sinusas, M.D., the study’s lead author. “We believe that the behavior change was a result of league rules enforced at the minor league level plus education and support for tobacco cessation that resulted in this decade-long trend.”
Researchers pointed out that their study reached more than 90 percent of the men in these specific training camps, with 20 to 25 percent new participants each year due to high turnover rates in the league by trade, retirement, and release of contracts.
In 1986, the U.S. Surgeon General designated a clear association between smokeless tobacco use and oral cancers. Previous studies and surveys have shown a relationship between baseball players and a high prevalence of conditions such as oral lesions, gum disorders, and nicotine dependence. Smokeless tobacco use also has been implicated in the development of coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease, hypertension, peptic ulcers, and fetal mortality and morbidity.
The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 20,000 international, national, and regional members are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.
Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise® is the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, and is available from Lippincott Williams & Wilkins at 1-800-638-6423.
American College of Sports Medicine