Hot dogs, peanuts and seventh-inning stretches are some of baseball's most steadfast traditions. But another one is slipping in the ranks: smokeless tobacco.
A recent study of Pittsburgh Pirate players, both in major and minor leagues, found that smokeless tobacco use went from 41% of players in 1991 to 25% in 2000. Much of the downward trend can be credited to the 1993 ban on chewing tobacco in the minor leagues, says Dr. Keith Sinusas, the study's lead author and associate director of the family medicine residency at Middlesex Hospital in Middletown, Conn. "As players progress to the major leagues, they're less likely to be using," he says, adding that education programs helped as well.
Researchers noted a parallel decrease in cases of oral leukoplakia, whitish lesions that form on the inside of the mouth that can become cancerous. Those numbers dropped from 22.6% to 9.4%, and Sinusas has good news for those who quit: "Within a few months of stopping use," he says, "most of the lesions go away."
The statistics, published in this month's issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, bode well not only for professional ballplayers but also for fans and high school and college athletes. "One of the things that [managers] try and tell the players is that they're role models, and should be setting a good example for the youth who follow baseball," Sinusas says.