Following the news of Tony Gwynn's diagnosis of parotid cancer, more and more MLB players are recognizing the health risks and publicly distancing themselves from chewing tobacco.
Leading the charge of new anti-chewing tobacco advocates is Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who according to the Washington Post, picked up the habit after seeing ballplayers use the product as a child. Gwynn was Strasburg's manager at San Diego State University, and Strasburg says his old coach's diagnosis--which the Padres legend credits as a result of years of using chew--is the reason behind his decision to give it up.
Strasburg says he doesn't want young fans to fall into the same trap he did while attempting to emulate their favorite players. While he hasn't quit yet, the heralded pitcher hopes to quit dipping by spring training.
The health risks inherent in using chewing tobacco are numerous. Mouth cancer is a common effect which can sometimes require jaw-removal surgery to treat. The juices chewing tobacco creates can lead to esophageal and pancreatic cancers due to the concentrations of metal swallowed.
Strangely, chewing tobacco use remains steady among major league players despite bans at the amateur, college, and minor league levels. This is likely due to the product's use being seen as a rite of passage among major leaguers.
A ban in the majors hasn't occurred yet because it's seen as a collective bargaining issue between the owners and the players' union, so until the owners are willing to give up something in return for a ban of tobacco use on the field, don't expect chewing tobacco use to stop at the highest level of the game. Advocates will have to spend more time and rescources on curbing use at a younger level and combat the romanticism of dipping if they really want to see an end to its use.