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Sports icons influence others to try chewing tobacco

Sat, Apr 18th 2015 05:00 pm

By Jake Pandolfi

Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly recently announced he was cancer free after being diagnosed in June 2013 with oral cancer. Kelly's story had a happy ending, but almost half of those diagnosed with oral cancer don't live to tell the tale.

According to data collected in 2012 by the American Cancer Society, about 3.5 percent of people in the U.S. ages 12 and older use smokeless tobacco - that's about 9 million people. Use of smokeless tobacco is higher in young adults, with more than 5.5 percent of people 18 to 25 saying they are current users.

Over 45,000 users are diagnosed with oral cancer each year and the chances of survival are 50 percent.

Even though the use of any tobacco product is known to cause cancer, teens and young adults are inclined to follow the crowd and succumb to peer pressure. Young people look up to and try to mimic sports icons such as Kelly, Babe Ruth and Tony Gwynn, who are just some examples of chewing tobacco users.

"I grew up watching Tony Gwynn play baseball," stated Jake Streb, a Niagara University student. "I thought it was the cool thing to do. If Tony could dip, why not me?"

Smokeless tobacco also provides the user with versatility.

"I would dip in the car driving anywhere; sports; hanging with friends; after a meal; on the toilet; in the shower; basically anywhere," said Mike Norwood, a Niagara University student.

A social life revolving around sports heavily influenced both Norwood and Streb.

In the early 1950s, Major League Baseball players Bill Tuttle and Joe Garagiola were common users of chewing tobacco. Garagiola quit and began raising awareness on the dangers of chewing tobacco. Tuttle never recognized the danger until 1993, when a sore was found in his mouth. After a 13-hour surgery, Tuttle joined Garagiola's fight to educate young Americans on the danger of smokeless tobacco. Tuttle had another four surgeries before his death in 1998.

Garagiola advises parents to talk to their children about the dangers of chewing tobacco by expressing concern for their health. If all else fails, tell them about Tuttle and how he died.

Smokeless tobacco, commonly referred to as chewing tobacco, is the leading cause of mouth and tongue cancer. The Oral Cancer Foundation states surgery is the oldest form of treatment for cancer. It also has an important role in diagnosing and staging of cancer. Advances in surgical techniques have allowed surgeons to successfully operate on a growing number of patients.

Today, less invasive operations are often done to remove tumors and to try to preserve as much normal oral cavity structure and function as possible. Some common treatments include removal of the affected section of the mouth, which can leave the victim with hole in the tongue, cheek and jaw

The idea that molds young minds is that chewing tobacco does not have the same long-term effects as smoking. If educated right, young adults might steer clear of chewing tobacco, and the number of new diagnoses would drop.

Editors: Anthony Kondrk, Alexis Tymorek, Cameron Fowler

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