First, it was the good news that the rate of cigarette smoking among teens decreased. Then Medical Press reported that hookah use by teens has increased, although it may not always be reported by surveillance efforts. Now the spotlight is on smokeless tobacco. While all tobacco product use has been trending down, “during 2001-2013, current use of smokeless tobacco increased significantly among high school athletes, but not among high school nonathletes,” according to an article in Medical Daily. It also seems that if athletes played on more than one team sport, their smokeless tobacco use increased slightly.
There are consequences to smoking that many athletes seem to be aware of, such as poor wound healing and reduced overall fitness. However, when it comes to smokeless tobacco, athletes see this as harmless and a socially acceptable way, at least among fellow athletes, to enhance their athletic performance. It seems the way smokeless tobacco is marketed as a “safe alternative” to cigarettes has made it more popular among the high school set. Here in Florida, our youth tobacco survey does not differentiate between athlete and non-athlete use when it comes to smokeless tobacco or any other tobacco products.
The article from Medical Daily used figures for current use of smokeless tobacco. According to the 2014 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey, current use means the student used smokeless tobacco at least once in a 30 day period. In 2001, 5.4% of High school students reported smokeless tobacco use. By 2013, that number was at 5.0%, but percentages have ranged from a low of 4.6% in 2012 to a high of 6.4% in both 2010 and 2011. The 2014 figure increased slightly from the previous year and repeats the 2001 figure of 5.4%. The figure for 2015 has dropped to 4.9%. The numbers for Middle school students, as shown in the above chart, are lower still. In fact, our Florida numbers are about half of those quoted in the article.
Perhaps the 2014 oral cancer diagnosis of Curt Schilling or the death the same year of Tony Gwynn, who attributed his oral cancer to years of smokeless tobacco use, played some part in lowing smokeless tobacco use numbers in the Florida 2015 survey among athletes. We may never know. But the news did seem to educate the athletes that smokeless tobacco isn’t the safe alternative they have been lead to believe. Whether students are athletes or not, education is the key in reducing tobacco use and preventing it in the first place
Click HERE for the Medical Daily article.