Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn’s death from oral cancer associated with a lifetime use of smokeless tobacco shocked baseball fans around the country. But will Gwynn’s death have any resonance with current baseball players or future fans? After all, Gwynn was a professional athlete—disciplined and in tune with his body. If he couldn’t kick the habit, what choice do regular folks have?
We know quitting tobacco (smoking and smokeless) is not easy. A CDC report on smokers found that 68.8 percent of current smokers want to completely stop smoking, and 52.4 percent of smokers attempted to quit in the past year, but only 6.2 percent of smokers had successfully quit within the past year.
Major League Baseball’s best efforts to reduce the use of smokeless tobacco is working, albeit gradually. The Pro Baseball Athletic Trainers Society revealed the number of major leaguers who use spit tobacco has declined from about 50 to 33 percent in the last 20 years. Minor leaguers are prohibited from chewing. These efforts will undoubtedly create more positive non-smokeless tobacco users who younger players can emulate. Unfortunately, surveys of high school players estimate that 30 to 35 percent use smokeless tobacco. So, public health measures must work in concert with individual efforts to kick the habit.
If you have a relative who is a young baseball player, he is surrounded by peers who probably use smokeless tobacco. How can you take action to combat this? Based on decades of research, the CDC and other smoking cessation experts recommend some of the following tips:
- Resist the temptation to nag, plead, bribe or threaten them. Instead, tell them why it’s important to you that they quit. Be brief. If they are not receptive, try again another time.
- If someone you care about says that he or she is ready to quit, is trying to quit, or has recently quit, tell them how proud you are and offer your support. Remember that quitting is tough.
- Nicotine withdrawal causes unpleasant symptoms, so the person may be tense, irritable or even sad for a time. Be sympathetic. Remind them that the withdrawal symptoms will eventually go away and that they are already becoming healthier.
- Offer to go for walk with them or do other activities that will help keep them distracted. Encourage them to eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water and juices, and get enough rest.
- Help the new nonsmoker avoid places where other people are smoking or places or activities they connect with smoking. If they relapse, encourage them to get back on track and move on.
- Let the person know that there are sources of support, such as their state tobacco quit line at 1-800-QUITNOW (1-800-784-8669), personal physician or team trainer.
Additionally, hospitals and clinics offer smoking cessation programs staffed by training smoking cessation experts, such as the program at our hospital near Phoenix.
Remember, it’s common for people who want to quit to have several starts and stops along the way. Patience and gentle persistence are needed to help a loved one quit using tobacco products.