Rest In Peace Mr. Padre – Tony Gwynn & Smokeless Tobacco

Tony Gwynn - Rest In Peace“I haven’t discussed that with the doctors yet, but I’m thinking it’s related to dipping,” said Gwynn, who resumed the practice of using chewing tobacco after the first two surgeries.”

I quit chewing tobacco nearly 3 years ago next week, and I’ve read many statements like this and others regarding the use of it.  The article goes on:

Dr. Kevin Brumund, a neck and throat specialist at the UCSD Moores Cancer Center, said there have been no studies showing a link between parotid cancer and chewing tobacco.

“There is a wide spectrum of prognosis for the malignant parotid carcinomas,” said Dr. Brumund. “Most parotid tumors are benign. And the prognosis runs the spectrum.”

You can read the interview in its entirety HERE (2010).  At the time, Tony Gwynn (Mr. Padre) had just been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and was coaching the San Diego State University Aztecs.  His son had just been traded to the Padres, and he was working part time for ESPN as an analyst.

Tony Gwynn fought this battle against his body until this morning (June 16, 2014).  This morning, Gwynn passed away at the age of 54 from cancer of the salivary gland.  When he made those statements in 2010, he had already been battling this disease since 1997.  Despite all of the scares, warning signs, and support sent, Gwynn continued his usage of the very thing that may have killed him .

Tony Gwynn - CancerTony Gwynn retired in 2001 with 3,141 hits, a .338 batting average, 15 all star appearances, and 5 Gold Gloves (along with countless other awards).  He was a hitting machine, and was once on the the cover of Sports Illustrated with the caption “The Best Hitter Since Ted Williams”.  Like Ted Williams, Gwynn battled demons and his just happened to be smokeless tobacco.  One stat that you won’t see on his plaque in Cooperstown is for the surgery to remove a non-malignant parotid tumor from the right side of his face in 1997.  He had the same surgery in 2007 before learning that he had cancer in 2010.  After multiple surgeries (the most recent being in 2012 where his face was paralyzed because the tumor was wrapped around a nerve in his face), radiation, and other treatments, doctors still are not confirming that the cancer was due to his use of smokeless tobacco.

But I think it was, and so did Tony Gwynn.

“Of course it caused it … I always dipped on my right side,” he said in 2010.

As a former user of chewing tobacco, this is one of my greatest fears.  For years, I shoved chemically enhanced poison into my lip.  It tore wounds into my lip, and I have a permanent pocket there even after 3 years of not using.  When a sore became too painful for me to place this poison on, I moved it to other places in my mouth.  My tongue would turn brown by the end of the day (or was just permanently stained brown.  I don’t know.  As a user, I wanted to ignore any signs I could that I might just be killing myself.).

It’s not surprising that Gwynn tried to hide his cancer battle (or ignored the signs) especially with all the conflicting information out there and the call for “harm reduction” which asks users of tobacco products to kill themselves in an alternate fashion. Smokeless tobacco has been linked to esophagus, stomach, and pancreatic cancer (as well as the traditional mouth, tongue, cheek, gum, and throat cancers.  It’s true that salivary cancer (what took Gwynn) is not on this list, but salivary cancer is quite rare in reality and there has been no research into the matter.  It took over 20 years for scientists to link lung cancer to smoking, and that was with much more funding and examples.

When my father was a child (he’s 59), he saw the introduction of “safer” cigarettes with filters and the initial inspiration for the e-cigarettes was patented within the first 10 years of his life.  After it was proven that “light” cigarettes did virtually nothing, the push towards smokeless tobacco came in the 1970s when this product was sold as a “safe” alternative.  In 1983, a young man named Sean Marsee ignited a debate on this and, beginning in 1986, it became law that tobacco companies cannot advertise the product as “safe”.  So, they advertised it as “safer”.  In recent years, the introduction of nicotine cessation aids to an open market have allowed addicts to continue abusing the drug while being told that quitting is impossible without continued use of nicotine.  And, now, we have e cigarettes which insist that nicotine is not bad.

Today, smokeless tobacco is estimated to be used by 5.5% of the population.  Of these users, I guarantee that a majority were introduced to the product in their youth via sports, scouts, or some other “manly” activity.  Harm reduction may only account for a small part of this population, but it is becoming a loud battle cry heard from its users.  Recent studies show a drop in smokers in the US, but smokeless tobacco usage has stayed static.

Harm reduction is an evil strategy that will leave you addicted to a chemical and willing to do whatever you need to to use it.  If an addict doesn’t have chew, an e cigarette, or a preferred nicotine “vehicle” alternative available, that addict will go to any vehicle containing the drug.  Harm reduction is the lie that keeps addicts using and it keeps the door open on the nicotine’s use.  In fact, Big Tobacco has known for years that “dual usage’ (addicts that use 2 or more forms of nicotine) paved a road that assured a virtual failure when these users quit.

I’m not going to lie to you.  Nicotine is not easy to quit.  It takes an initial decision, courage, and and fortitude.  After that initial moment, you just have to keep making that decision over and over again.  There are things in your life that you can change to make quitting easier, and there are a set of tools that nearly every quitter has to carry around on a daily basis.  I found the courage to quit in 2011, and I was aided by the website killthecan.org.  I’m still aided there, and know that I’m not the first to wander down this quit path.  They arm me with the tools I need there, and they light the well beaten path for me.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Padre.  You were a helluva ball player.  You, like many others, were first introduced to smokeless tobacco while playing baseball.  People say it is part of the game.  Well, it doesn’t need to be.  To all those out there, write to your local little leagues.  Go to their board meetings.  Let’s separate this drug from our children.  We are the examples they follow.  There is no good in smokeless tobacco unless you want your face literally rocked off.

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One Comment

  1. Tony Gwynn’s death has finally given me the final push to quit. I smoked cigarettes for 31 years and switched to dip… that was 6 years ago. Thanks Again, Tony. He still inspires.

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