Tobacco Use in Athletes. Part 2

Q: Do tobacco companies still serve as sponsors?

A: The only sponsor that has remained, and I think that has even fallen by the wayside for most amateur sports, is smokeless tobacco. “Chew” was very much prevalent and those companies have sponsored a lot of football and baseball events.

Q: Does the athlete still feel that smokeless tobacco is OK vs. smoking in terms of health?

A: It depends very much on the sport. Once again, it is a cultural thing. Baseball and the NCAA have banned smokeless tobacco. But, it’s the power of role models. If the athlete aspires to be a role model, he might start out with a wad of bubble gum in his cheek and end up with more than that.

Generally speaking, baseball is not a contact sport. There is a lot of time between play. A lot of people are nervous and start with gum because they feel the need to chew something. And of course, smokeless tobacco contains a stimulant that keeps people going. It’s hard to chew tobacco while playing football, because there is so much hitting. A player could easily inhale, and you don’t want to inhale that stuff.

A lot of places don’t want the mess smokeless tobacco makes, it’s very unsanitary because you spit it out. This is the one big advantage of artificial turf — spit from smokeless tobacco stains artificial turf, so people are not about to tolerate spitting on the carpet.

Q: Are there any other sports where tobacco use is prevalent?

A: Those are the two. I find it fascinating that, for example, golfers do not smoke or chew. Why don’t they? They are on a golf course. They are not on a baseball field. People don’t expect to see tobacco on a golf course. They think it is unsightly to spit. It’s a cultural thing. Tennis is another example.

One of the most important things that occurred in this societal change in smoking is when they took cigarette advertisement off television. That was a huge help. Smoking is no longer cool.

However, the group most affected by smoking is women, especially young women. Women smoke to keep weight off and, in women’s sports where weight is a problem, you see women doing a great deal of smoking.

For example, gymnasts smoke a lot. The problem for gymnasts is that smoking promotes arthritis, leeches calcium and produces osteoporosis. Women gymnasts have to keep their weight down, so they don’t eat and they smoke as an appetite suppressant. When they don’t eat, they end up with an eating disorder, which also promotes osteoporosis. If the gymnast continues this habit, she will no longer have menses (monthly periods) and that promotes osteoporosis.

The single group of athletes that is most prone to this fate, and the group that still hasn’t changed, and in fact has resisted change to this day – the group of athletes that smoke more than other group of athletes is the performing artists – the ballet dancers.

Ballet dancers are “required” to be thin. Many of them are anorexic. They smoke to decrease their appetite. I can tell you stories of taking care of performing artists – young women. In a troupe of 30 to 40 dancers, ninety percent smoke. Regardless of their age, they go outside to smoke on their break.

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