When baseball legend Tony Gwynn passed away June 16, it was a wake-up call to many people about the dangers of smokeless tobacco. Gwynn, who died at 54, was a long-time user of chewing tobacco and it ultimately cost him his life after a long battle with salivary gland cancer.
Since Gwynn’s passing, a number of professional baseball players have announced they will stop using smokeless tobacco, including Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg and Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Addison Reed. From a public health perspective, the hope is that their decision to stop using tobacco products will inspire younger players who idolize them to avoid using chew or to quit.
Here in South Carolina, it’s predominately young males who use smokeless tobacco. While our prevention efforts have helped our state achieve the lowest teen smoking rate on record, we are seeing an increase in the number of high school boys who are picking up smokeless tobacco. Today, 15.3% of male high school students in South Carolina now use smokeless tobacco compared to 3.9% of adult males in our state.
No tobacco is safe and smokeless tobacco has been linked to mouth and throat cancer, pancreatic cancer and heart disease. Cathy Warner with our Tobacco Prevention and Control Division recently spoke to Sports Talk radio to help get the word out about the dangers of smokeless tobacco and to share our free resources to help tobacco users kick the habit. You can listen to Cathy’s full interview on Sports Talk here.
DHEC offers free resources to help South Carolinians who want to quit through our Tobacco Quitline (1-800-QUIT-NOW). Everyone who calls the Quitline gets at least one free counseling session, and uninsured callers can get free nicotine replacement therapy like patches and gum to help them quit.
Thank you to our Tobacco Prevention and Control Division for their work to help more South Carolinians kick the habit. I encourage everyone to share this blog post to help increase awareness of teens and smokeless tobacco use in South Carolina and our free cessation resources.