Smokeless Tobacco in Sports

Smokeless tobacco is endemic in certain male sports in Canada, the United States and Europe.

The Sport Medicine and Science Council of Manitoba has surveyed over 2000 athletes involved in many different sports. The survey examines substance use patterns categorized by sport and athlete sex.

One of the concerning results is the alarming levels of use of chewing tobacco. In some male team sports, the use of chewing tobacco reaches 54% of all participants in that league! Higher rates of use exist in young men from 15 to 22 years of age, but athletes as young as 12 years old are beginning to chew, and much of this harmful behavior can be attributed to sport involvement. Athletes involved in hockey, baseball and softball, as well as rugby are particularly prone to use.

Further, concurrent use of alcohol and tobacco provides a synergistic environment for the development of oral cancer. Up to 87% of male athletes, are drinking alcohol at substantial quantities in the same age group as those using chewing tobacco.

Dentists are well positioned to provide assistance in reducing chewing tobacco use. Know the signs, and share your concerns with them.

You can call it what you want – smokeless tobacco, spit tobacco, snus, chew, snuff, pinch, plug or dip – but don’t call it harmless! Chew tobacco provides for delivery of high levels of nicotine, and therefore has serious addictive properties. Two cans a week of chew is the equivalent of 1.5 packs a day in nicotine! The average consumption by male sport users is 1.5 tins per week and parents were often unaware of chew use.

Oral cancers are almost as prevalent as sun related melanomas in the Canadian population, and both of these are almost entirely preventable by curbing the harmful behaviours. Education on the risks of chew, and early signs of cell changes are very beneficial in aiding in chewing tobacco cessation.

The Sport Medicine and Science Counil has produced an information card and WRHA published a great article in the Jan/Feb 2013 WAVE magazine.

Smokeless tobacco info cards
Smokeless tobacco – WAVE magazine