NSTEP Says Spit Tobacco Use By Baseball Players Is Down


Chicago, Illinois -For the second consecutive year, Oral Health America's National Spit Tobacco Education Program (NSTEP), in an ongoing effort to reduce the high mortality rate of oral cancer in America, partnered with Major League Baseball and the Crown Council to perform oral cancer screenings for Minor League players at Spring Training camps throughout the month of March. This year marks the seventh year that NSTEP has worked with Major and Minor League Baseball to provide spit tobacco education, prevention and awareness to players at Spring Training camps throughout Florida and Arizona.

NSTEP offered exam services to all Minor Leaguers in 22 camps. Volunteering their medical expertise and time, 55 Crown Council dentists traveled to training camps in Florida and Arizona to perform oral examinations on players, coaches, trainers and staff. Upon clinical assessment, dentists who found suspicious lumps and/or lesions in the mouth used Oral Scan Laboratories' OralCDx brush biopsy kit to obtain a sample of the suspect tissue. This quick and painless procedure uses a computer-assisted method of analysis to reveal the abnormalities. As an extra precaution, dentists also screened some of those examined with ViziLiteT, a new device from Zila Inc. used to improve the visibility of oral mucosa abnormalities. Of those examined, 13 percent received brush biopsies as a result of apparent soft tissue abnormalities in the mouth. Of the players biopsied, 12 percent reported "atypical" cell abnormalities. These abnormalities could indicate definitive pre-cancerous or cancerous changes. Laboratory results are currently being reported directly to the players and team athletic trainers.

Robert Klaus, president and CEO of Oral Health America, expressed his appreciation to Major League Baseball for the close and collegial working relationship NSTEP has encountered with teams and medical staff, especially the athletic trainers who provide the highest possible level of care to their teams. "The 2002 Spring Training session serves to remind us, yet again, of spit tobacco's strong influence on so many young ballplayers. And if the deadly habit is so prevalent here, you can bet it's but the tip of the iceberg with the general population of young men and, remarkably, young women too."

Major League Baseball has gone to great lengths to discourage the use of spit tobacco by players, staff and fans, and the sport has seen a significant decrease in usage over the last few years. In 1993 Major League Baseball instituted a tobacco prohibition policy for all Minor League teams, coaches, and staff. "While we realize that tobacco has been a long-standing problem, we hope that through our continued efforts we can educate our players on the true hazards of using spit tobacco. Oral Health America and the Crown Council's participation are an integral part, as players receive the personal opportunity to have their concerns addressed by knowledgeable professionals. Interaction with Crown Council dentists reinforces our educational material and makes players more receptive to seeking assistance," Sylvia Lind, senior manager of Minor League Operations for Major League Baseball.

A study conducted in 2000 by Dr. Herb Severson, Ph. D., of Oregon Research Institute, reports that spit tobacco use among Major League ballplayers has declined significantly, from 38.5 percent in 1998 to 33.7 percent in 2000. And Minor League players have seen even more encouraging numbers with a drop from 35.2 percent in 1998 to 26.6 percent in 2001. Of the players who currently use spit tobacco, two in three (67 percent) have tried to quit.

For NSTEP, the first line of attack against oral cancer has been to sever the long-standing connection between spit tobacco products and America's pastime. In discouraging professional baseball players from using spit tobacco products, NSTEP hopes to deter a new generation of ballplayers and fans from trying spit tobacco and to inform the American public about the close association of the product with oral cancer and other serious health conditions.

Over 30,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year, and only 54 percent will live more than five years. That gives oral cancer the worst five-year survival rate of all major cancers. However, like most cancers, if it is detected early, the survival rates are greatly increased.

The Crown Council is a national organization of dental practitioners committed to promoting good oral health through community-based charitable activities. Funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, NSTEP works with Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), Minor League Baseball, the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS), and the Crown Council to alert Americans to the dangers of spit tobacco, an addictive substance that can cause oral cancer.


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