CDC: Use of smokeless tobacco grows among student athletes

High school athletes are using smokeless tobacco at nearly twice the rate of non-athletes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found in a report released this week.

Though current use of combustible tobacco products, including cigarettes and cigars, dropped dramatically — 31.5 percent to 19.5 percent — from 2001 to 2013 among high school students nationwide, the CDC said current use of smokeless tobacco remained unchanged at 5.9 percent among non-athletes and increased among athletes 10 percent to 11.1 percent.

The use of smokeless tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco and snuff, was highest among male high school athletes, at 17.4 percent in 2013.

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“Athletes might be more likely to use certain tobacco products, such as smokeless tobacco, if they perceive them to be harmless; however, smokeless tobacco use is not safe and is associated with increased risk of pancreatic, esophageal, and oral cancers,” the public health institute said in a release.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said the prevalent use of smokeless tobacco product in Major League Baseball is contributing to this upward trend.

“Taking tobacco out of baseball will save lives by reducing the number of young people who begin to use smokeless tobacco because they followed the example of the players they idolize,” Matthew Myers, the campaign's president, said in a news release. “Professional athletes are role models for impressionable youth. When baseball stars use tobacco, the kids who look up to them are much more likely to do so as well.”

CDC said tobacco-free policies, such as prohibiting tobacco use by players, coaches, referees and fans on school campuses and at all public recreational facilities — including stadiums, parks and school gymnasiums — could help make smokeless tobacco use less socially acceptable and reduce its use among student athletes.

Boston joined San Francisco earlier this week in banning tobacco from all baseball stadiums. The ordinance is scheduled to take effect on April 1, before the 2016 season. San Francisco’s ordinance will take effect Jan. 1.