Young Athletes Smoking Less, Chewing More

Smokeless tobacco use among high school athletes increased while cigarette and cigar use declined

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Many young athletes still use tobacco, but they may not be smoking it as much as they once did.

Instead, they're chewing, dipping and snuffing it, a new study found. This study found that while cigarette and cigar smoking among high school athletes declined in recent years, smokeless tobacco use increased slightly.

Some young athletes may avoid smoking because they've heard how it can damage their athletic performance, according to the authors of this study. These athletes may opt instead for smokeless tobacco in the false belief that it does not damage their health.

“We can do more to protect America’s youth from a lifetime of addiction,” said Tom R. Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a press release. “The fact is, smokeless tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco, snuff or dip, can cause cancer of the mouth, esophagus and pancreas. And the nicotine in these products is harmful to the developing brain. Because we know tobacco-free policies in schools and other public recreational areas work, we must take action now so that our children are safe from these toxins.”

To study tobacco product use among high school athletes, Israel T. Agaku, DMD, of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, and colleagues looked at data from the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Among high school athletes who answered this survey in 2013, 19.5 percent said they smoked cigarettes or cigars — a sharp drop from the 31.5 percent who said they did in 2001. But 11.1 percent of this same group said they used smokeless tobacco products. In 2001, that figure was 10 percent.

While there was an increase in smokeless tobacco use among young athletes, the news wasn't all bad. In this age group, overall tobacco product use rates fell from 33.9 percent in 2001 to 22.4 percent in 2013, Dr. Agaku and team found.

Among the research team's other findings was a link between the number of sports teams kids participated in and their likelihood of using tobacco. Young athletes' likelihood of using smokeless tobacco increased for each team they played on. For smoking cigarettes or cigars, playing on multiple teams appeared to have the opposite effect.

So how can tobacco use rates be reduced among high school athletes? US Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA, offered one potential solution.

“Creating 100% tobacco-free environments is one of the best ways we can set our kids up for a healthy future,” Dr. Murthy said in a press release. “It helps them see that being tobacco-free is the way to better health and a longer life.”

This report was published Sept. 3 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
September 3, 2015
Last Updated:
September 9, 2015