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Dr. Anthony Alessi: Tobacco has no place in baseball

Young athletes often spend time imitating their sport’s role models. Mannerisms, attire and style of play are all elements of their admiration. Unfortunately, dangerous behaviors are also often imitated.

Tobacco use in the sport of baseball dates back to its origins in the 19th century. Baseball players originally chewed tobacco to keep their mouths moist in the dusty ball parks. Over time, cigarettes dominated and this was followed by snuff.

Head and neck cancers are often the result of risk factors that initiate changes in the DNA of cells. These changes are known as mutations and cause cells to grow uncontrollably. Eighty-five percent of cancers of the head and neck are associated with some form of tobacco use.

Treatment typically involves a combination of disfiguring surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. These cancers affect the ability to speak and eat.

In the 1990s, Major League Baseball initiated programs that resulted in banning tobacco products by minor league players while at the ballpark. These programs have resulted in a decline in the use of tobacco products among current players. Unfortunately, tobacco use continues to be permitted in the major leagues.

Congressional hearings recently raised the issue of prohibiting the use of all tobacco products by Major League players while at the ballpark. This cannot be enacted without the approval of the player’s union. Regrettably, the player’s union currently defends the rights of its members to use these products while in the public eye.

Successful athletes recognize the importance of being in peak physical condition and there is no role for tobacco products in reaching this goal. Hopefully, the players’ association will soon come to realize the importance of protecting its members’ health as well as their rights.

By ANTHONY ALESSI, Norwichbulletin

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