Cigarette smoking is down to its last out, but like Yogi says, it ain’t over till it’s over! Reaching smokeless tobacco users is a whole new ballgame.
“I am committed to being part of the movement to get tobacco out of youth sports,” Wells said. Wells will serve as an ambassador for OTF. He, and other prominent individuals and community leaders to be announced, will spread OTF’s message to kids in youth sports—it’s not hip to dip!
The OTF campaign is focused on reaching smokeless tobacco users including some 535,000 kids age 12-17 who try smokeless tobacco for the first time each year in the US.
Over the last 50 years, anti-tobacco campaigns have covered the bases educating the public about the health harms of smoking and whittled down US smoking populations from 42% to 18% of American adults. But a recent survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the use of smokeless tobacco among youth has held steady since 1999. In 2013, 14.7 percent of high-school boys reported current use of smokeless tobacco products.
Educating youth and smokeless tobacco users about the harms of smokeless tobacco use is an integral part of OTF’s mission is to end smokeless tobacco use in the US.
“A lot of kids don’t even realize that dipping is highly addictive and causes major health problems. As a coach, I’m hoping I can influence kids to refuse to use tobacco in the first place,” said Wells who now serves as head coach of his alma mater’s baseball team at Point Loma High School in San Diego, California.
David “Boomer” Wells played in the major leagues for 20 years with several teams including the Toronto Blue Jays and is best known for pitching the 15th perfect game in baseball history when playing for the New York Yankees.
Being a veteran of the major leagues, Wells understands how deeply ingrained smokeless tobacco use is in baseball culture.
Some research indicates as many as 50% of high school athletes use smokeless tobacco on the baseball field at the JV and varsity level.
In 2003, more than 1 in 3 major league baseball players used smokeless tobacco. Athletes are a large marketing source for smokeless tobacco, often seen on TV using it during a game.
But other national initiatives like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ Knock Tobacco Out of the Park have already thrown a curve ball at the smokeless tobacco industry. These efforts combined with the 2014 parotid cancer related death of MLB Hall of Famer and smokeless tobacco user Tony Gwynn, inspired conversations about change in tobacco use in baseball.
In April, San Francisco made history by becoming the first city to take tobacco out of baseball by signing into law an ordinance to prohibit the use of all tobacco products at all baseball venues and athletic fields within the city and county of San Francisco, including by fans and players. As of September, Boston and Los Angeles have also enacted similar laws.
OTF’s sponsorship of youth athletic and health programs will build on the momentum toward ending smokeless tobacco use in the US. OTF will sponsor the team Wells coaches next season. OTF sponsorships provide a financial donation for equipment and supplies while giving kids on the team the opportunity to take the pledge to refuse to use tobacco.