The use of smokeless tobacco products is rising among high school athletes, according to a new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Data from the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed that fewer high school athletes who play on sports teams smoke tobacco products than their non-athlete peers, but they use smokeless tobacco at a higher rate.
According to the CDC, the survey data shows that while the use of combustible tobacco products (cigarettes and cigars) dropped dramatically between 2001 and 2013 among all high school students, the use of smokeless tobacco stayed the same among non-athletes (5.9 percent), but increased among athletes (10 percent to 11.1 percent).
The lower use of combustible tobacco products could be a result of an awareness among athletes of how smoking can diminish athletic performance. However, the higher use of smokeless tobacco suggests athletes may perceive these products as harmless, socially acceptable, and possibly as a means of boosting athletic performance.
On the contrary, smokeless tobacco contains nicotine and cancer-causing chemicals and may increase the risk of death from heart disease and stroke, the CDC warns. Notable athletes with a history of using smokeless tobacco have been diagnosed with or died from oral cancer, the agency said.
“We can do more to protect America’s youth from a lifetime of addiction,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. “The fact is, smokeless tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco, snuff or dip, can cause cancer of the mouth, esophagus and pancreas. And the nicotine in these products is harmful to the developing brain. Because we know tobacco-free policies in schools and other public recreational areas work, we must take action now so that our children are safe from these toxins.”
Tobacco companies have marketed smokeless tobacco products as a satisfying alternative to cigarettes in places and situations in which smoking is banned – a strategy that the CDC says may further promote their use among athletes.
“Tobacco use among youth athletes is of particular concern because most adult tobacco users first try tobacco before age 18,” CDC Office on Smoking and Health research director Dr. Brian King said. “The younger people are when they start using tobacco, the more likely they are to become addicted and the more heavily addicted they can become.”
CDC – High school athletes using smokeless tobacco more than non-athletes
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