Death of baseballer Tony Gwynn highlights dangers of smokeless tobacco

The use of smokeless tobacco, or “chew,” is on the rise—and so is the number of people being diagnosed with oral cancer. The June 16, 2014 death of baseball Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn, from mouth cancer, may be a harbinger of future disease, according to Gregory Connolly of Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), who has worked to get chewing tobacco out of baseball for three decades.

Connolly, professor of the practice of public health and director of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at HSPH, told Bloomberg News that chewing tobacco-related deaths are likely to increase in the coming years. People now in their 50s—who started using chewing tobacco in the 1980s, when its use began to increase—are now starting to be diagnosed. “We do know your risk factor greatly increases with age,” Connolly said. “It’s devastating. The 5-year mortality rate [from oral cancers] is 50 percent, and if you don’t die, you’re left totally disfigured.”

Connolly said he thinks flavors of chewing tobacco should be banned and that it should be sold with aggressive warning labels, like cigarettes.

Read the Bloomberg News article: Gwynn’s Chewing Tobacco Death Renews Baseball Ban Call

Listen to the story on American Public Media’s Marketplace: The market for smokeless tobacco keeps on growing

Learn more

Smokeless tobacco products designed to attract the young (HSPH news)

Stealth tobacco (Harvard Public Health magazine)