Death Of Baseball Great Renews Focus On Smokeless Tobacco

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Death Of Baseball Great Renews Focus On Smokeless Tobacco

CREATED Jun 17, 2014
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The death of San Diego Padre legend Tony Gwynn has brought a lot of attention to the link between smokeless tobacco and cancer. Doctors say there is a clear connection, but not everyone who uses the product gets the disease.

A former Major League Baseball manager who lives in Brentwood said he's never had a problem. John McNamara managed or coached Major League Baseball teams for 25 years.

He led the Boston Red Sox to the American League pennant in 1986.

"Well, in the old days... I chewed Red Man," says McNamara. "I think it's just a relaxing thing to calm your nerves."

He has chewed tobacco or used dip his whole life, and credits it for helping him when he coached, especially at the start of a game.

McNamara turned 82 years old less than two weeks ago. He calls chewing tobacco a habit that has never affected his health.

He might be one of the lucky ones.

Major League Baseball Hall of Fame player Tony Gwynn passed away Monday from salivary gland cancer. He blamed the disease on chewing tobacco.

When Gwynn started playing ball in the 1980s, there was a study that showed more than two-thirds of Major League players had tried smokeless tobacco. A third said they were still using it.

Dr. Sarah Rohde is a surgeon who removes head and neck tumors at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

"There are many studies in the literature that show there is a high link between smokeless tobacco, chewing tobacco and oral cavity cancer," she says. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says chewing tobacco contains 28 carcinogens.

"We often see a direct correlation for people who have chewed tobacco. Many people who use it in one particular location and that is the exact location where they will get their cancer," says Rohde. 

The CDC says the current use of smokeless tobacco is about half of what it was in the 1990s. Despite the warnings people still use, it including McNamara.

"I think if that individual wants to take that risk, it's his life," he says. 

Smokeless tobacco is not allowed in high school, college or minor league baseball.

Players can still use it in the majors, but they can't put the cans in their uniforms or chew during interviews with the media.

Dr. Rohde says those who use it should always ask a dentist to check for signs of oral cancer - or check themselves and look for things that appear unusual.

If you have unexplained mouth pain that last more than two weeks she said you should see a doctor.