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Tony Gwynn attributed his cancer to chewing tobacco

Jun 16, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT


As is being mentioned in most obituaries of Tony Gwynn, he blamed his longtime use of smokeless tobacco for the mouth and salivary gland cancer which eventually took his life. Which makes it a really good time to tell anyone you know who uses the stuff to stop immediately and to tell any kids you know — especially ones who play baseball, where so many develop the habit — not to start.

It’s also a good time to look back to the story Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe wrote back in March about baseball players’ use of chewing tobacco and snuff. In it he notes that, even though Major League Baseball has tried to discourage its use for the last few years, a lot of ballplayers still use it. In Abraham’s own survey of the 58 Red Sox players invited to spring training, he found 21 who admitted to using it.

Like so many things in baseball, use of tobacco is done out of habit and tradition and the sport’s particular culture. But unlike everything else which follows that pattern, tobacco kills. It may very well have killed Tony Gwynn.



  1. 18thstreet - Jun 16, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    • carol2000 - Jun 26, 2014 at 11:37 PM

      The anti-smokers commit flagrant scientific fraud by ignoring more than 50 studies which show that human papillomaviruses cause at least 1/4 of non-small cell lung cancers. Smokers and passive smokers are more likely to have been exposed to this virus for socioeconomic reasons. And the anti-smokers’ studies are all based on lifestyle questionnaires, so they’re cynically DESIGNED to blame tobacco for all those extra lung cancers that are really caused by HPV. And they commit the same type of fraud with every disease they blame on tobacco.

      And, all their so-called “independent” reports were ring-led by the same guy, Jonathan M. Samet, including the Surgeon General Reports, the EPA report, the IARC report, and the ASHRAE report, and he’s now the chairman of the FDA Committee on Tobacco. He and his politically privileged clique exclude all the REAL scientists from their echo chamber. That’s how they make their reports “unanimous!”

      For the government to commit fraud to deprive us of our liberties is automatically a violation of our Constitutional rights to the equal protection of the laws, just as much as if it purposely threw innocent people in prison. And for the government to spread lies about phony smoking dangers is terrorism, no different from calling in phony bomb threats.

      • 18thstreet - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:07 AM

        You’ve devoted your life to a worthy cause. That you for your input.

      • christopolous - Nov 2, 2014 at 8:05 AM

        There is only one thing more pervasive and malignant than cancer attributed to tobacco use…and that is you Carol. Ad hominem attack? Of course, why not? You’re all over the ‘net talking your ignorant trash, claiming everything EXCEPT smoking and chewing is the reason for the various cancers. There’s a warm spot in hell for people like you who try to deceive the public about such dangers.

  2. gothapotamus90210 - Jun 16, 2014 at 3:05 PM

    While I agree it’s never a good idea to start dipping, I think the frequency with Gwynn dipped should be noted. Apparently he went through two tins per day (with the amount in his mouth, it looked like chew rather than dip – but it very well could’ve been all chew if he went through two tins) and even slept with it in sometimes. For those of you who’ve never dipped, you’d need to take a huge pinch every waking hour to go through two tins in a day.

    I quit in favor of nicotine patches and gums. It’s not the same, but gives me the nicotine my body wants. The stuff is harder to kick than booze. If you’ve never done it, do yourself a favor and don’t start.

    • asimonetti88 - Jun 16, 2014 at 3:07 PM

      Two tins in one day is almost unbelievable, considering how much that is.

      • gothapotamus90210 - Jun 16, 2014 at 3:13 PM

        Found the article … I was incorrect, it was a tin and a half:

      • asimonetti88 - Jun 16, 2014 at 3:28 PM

        Amazing! 54 is far too young, it’s tougher knowing it was preventable

    • gothapotamus90210 - Jun 16, 2014 at 3:07 PM


      but it very well could’ve been all *dip* if he went through two tins.

      Note: dip is in a tin, chew is the leafy tobacco in a pouch

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - Jun 16, 2014 at 4:11 PM

      even slept with it in sometimes.

      Wait what? I can’t imagine that’s good for you, especially if swallowed.

      • gothapotamus90210 - Jun 16, 2014 at 5:41 PM

        Unhealthy on a multitude of levels. Obviously longer exposure to carcinogens in the mouth and throat area. Gutting it probably didn’t bother his stomach (in the immediate term) as you get used to it, so long as you don’t swallow the whole thing.

  3. hoopmatch - Jun 16, 2014 at 3:26 PM

    Didn’t Ron Guidry have to come out of a game one time because he swallowed his chew?

  4. chc4 - Jun 16, 2014 at 3:46 PM

    Maybe, maybe not. People who have never smoked get lung cancer all the time. Not as uncommon as you’d think. I’d certainly agree that chewing tobacco is not good for anyone’s health. But to attribute an individual case of mouth cancer to it is dicey.

    • 18thstreet - Jun 16, 2014 at 4:01 PM

      True, nonsmokers get lung cancer. Second-half smoke is a real thing.

      If you use tobacco on a regular basis, there is a one in three chance that it will kill you. And when a regular user of smokeless tobacco dies of salivary gland cancer, you can safely attribute the mouth cancer to the carcinogen he kept putting in his mouth.

      • chc4 - Jun 16, 2014 at 4:06 PM

        1 in 3? I call BS on that. Haven’t heard of too many former baseball players succumbing to mouth cancer. Certainly not one in three.

      • 18thstreet - Jun 16, 2014 at 4:18 PM

        I’d respond to you, but you gave a thumbs-down to a NCI study. You won’t believe anything I say anyway.

        Have a nice day.

    • 18thstreet - Jun 16, 2014 at 4:04 PM

      Approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths occur each year among adult nonsmokers in the United States as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke.

      National Cancer Institute. Cancer Progress Report 2003. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, 2004.

    • 18thstreet - Jun 16, 2014 at 4:12 PM

      “Of course it caused it … I always dipped on my right side.” — Tony Gwynn, 1960-2014

    • historiophiliac - Jun 16, 2014 at 4:25 PM

      It’s toasted!

    • pbastille - Jun 16, 2014 at 5:26 PM

      Radon gas is actually the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths. My mother-in-law never smoked and had not even been around second hand smoke for over 60 years and died a horrible death. Acceptable radon levels are approximately 4 pCi/l and the level in her house was almost 60. While we are on the subject of preventable deaths, please check your radon levels, particular if you live in high concentration areas

  5. alangyo - Jun 16, 2014 at 4:11 PM

    • People who die each year from cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke: approx. 480,000
    • Kids under 18 alive today who will ultimately die from smoking (unless smoking rates decline): 5.6 million
    • People in the USA who currently suffer from smoking-caused illness: 16 million+
    Smoking kills more people than alcohol, AIDS, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders, and suicides combined, with thousands
    more dying from spit tobacco use. Of all the kids who become new smokers each year, almost a third will ultimately die
    from it. In addition, smokers lose more than a decade of life because of their smoking.

    • historiophiliac - Jun 16, 2014 at 4:27 PM

      And your quality of life stinks too while you’re smoking.

  6. nothanksimdriving123 - Jun 16, 2014 at 4:35 PM

    Not to sound judgmental or anything, but the fact that any baseball league at any level allows any of its players or coaches to use tobacco while in uniform or in any team facility is utterly insane.

  7. rawdog2013 - Jun 16, 2014 at 4:48 PM

    I started chewing when I played baseball in high school and can tell you what a tough habit it is to break. As another commenter alluded to, nicotine patches and gum help. The fact the my favorite baseball player died from this terrible habit has helped reinforce my need to quit.

    RIP the great Tony Gwynn

    • gothapotamus90210 - Jun 16, 2014 at 6:02 PM

      I did a little research and nicotine has the second highest level of physical dependence (drugs of the opiate family being the highest). It also has the highest rate of addition (probably because it’s relatively cheap, it’s legal and users know it’s not an immediate hazard.),

      And it’s so hard to relapse, too. I quit nicotine all together for a few years, then had one dip at a Chesney concert a few years back, which set me back to dipping heavy again until I got the patches and the gum.

      And I have no plan to get off the patches anytime soon. Sometimes I can tolerate going from Step 1 to Step 2, but Step 3 gives me pretty miserable withdrawal.

  8. icanspeel - Jun 16, 2014 at 4:55 PM

    Tony’s death is a sad day, and hopefully it helps any with the awareness of using chewing tobacco and possibly preventing people from the same fate.

  9. jsally430 - Jun 16, 2014 at 4:57 PM

    Not the same type of Tabacco but smoking is ungodly hard to quit as well. If you’ve never used any type of nicotine products don’t it truly is an addiction that is hard to break

    • missingdiz - Jun 16, 2014 at 5:34 PM

      I’ll second that. My grandfather chewed Beechnut. Most people couldn’t understand a word he said. When he “spit” it was a brown stream. He had no sense of taste–he ate a raw onion as an appetizer at supper every evening (mind you, the way my grandmother cooked may have had something to do with it).

      I started smoking at 13, like all the cool guys. I quit for a few years in my early 20s, then I smoked a couple per day for a year or so, thinking “no problem.” Ran into a personal crisis and I was back up to 30/day for over 7 years. Finally I quit in 1986. Just last night I dreamed I was looking for my cigs–I knew I had an open pack around somewhere. I’d say on average I dream about smoking once a week–28 years after quitting! I have books from my student days that still smell like smoke.

      One other thing–the Feds still subsidize tobacco farmers!

      • gothapotamus90210 - Jun 16, 2014 at 5:44 PM

        My Dad smoked for ~30 years until he quit ~12 years ago. He says he has dreams of smoking the best cigarette he’s every had.

      • nothanksimdriving123 - Jun 16, 2014 at 7:14 PM

        Marketing of tobacco items in the US has long been aimed at kids, because almost no one who makes it to age 21 without ever starting smoking, chewing or dipping will then make such a foolish choice. We learn by then what it does, we’ve seen our friends who insisted they would soon quit try to quit but fail, and we’re less easily swayed by the need to look cool.

  10. rawdog2013 - Jun 16, 2014 at 5:58 PM

    I started chewing when I played baseball in high school and can tell you what a tough habit it is to break. As another commenter alluded to, nicotine patches and gum help. The fact the my favorite baseball player died from this terrible habit has helped reinforce my need to quit.
    RIP the great Tony Gwynn

  11. droopyyydog1 - Jun 16, 2014 at 8:52 PM

    After dipping for almost 15 years I gave it up and I live with the fear of the damage it has already done. Its been 6 years and my gum still has the indentation from where I used to put it. I encourage anyone who uses it to quit, I know it will be rough but you will feel better for it in the long run.

    Jim Kelly has admitted that he believes his cancer is from dipping and now Tony Gwynn has passed away from the same. Clay Buckholtz has admitted he has struggled with it and had the same health scare as these guys. Its a nasty habit and I really wish MLB would ban it all together because I’ll admit I started doing it because I saw these guys doing it when I was a kid. RIP Mr.Gwynn, by all accounts you were a class act and a true professional.

    • yahmule - Jun 16, 2014 at 11:22 PM

      It makes me groan whenever the networks catch John Elway trying to be sneaky with his dip cup. He’s the same age as Tony and he picked up that awful habit on a high school baseball diamond, too.

    • thenaturalmevs - Aug 9, 2014 at 7:56 PM

      Jim Kelly never chewed tobacco.

  12. carpi2 - Jun 16, 2014 at 9:52 PM

    R.I.P Tony Gwynn. You were one of the great ball players of my youth. Always a consummate professional, and, by the accounts of everyone who knew him personally, an amazing human being.

  13. gmfw7 - Jun 16, 2014 at 11:09 PM

    I have to call BS on some of the people saying its really hard to quit smokeless tabacco. I played baseball througj high school and college and started dipping my junior year of high school. I also had surgery for a handful of baseball related injuries durinf college and ensed up with a bad oppiate addiction that I struggle with to this day, and will for the rest of my life. After 5-6 years of dipping I was able to quit basically instantly. I smoked as well and put that down at the same time. Now some people will say I have more will power than most, but my struggles with oxycodone suggest otherwise. A tin and a pack of marlboro menthol a day was easier to quit than anything ive ever given up in my life. I dont care what healtg reports say, the bottom line is that me and many other ball players I know dipped because it goes along with the gamr and we enjoyed it. To compare it’s physical dependency to alcohol, opiate, or any illegal drug addiction is asinine. There is no painful withdraws or physical illness. It is almost 100% mental. Anyone who has ever quit dip or chew and also gone through the hell which is opiate withdraw or the seizures of alcohol and/or benzo withdraw will agree with me that tobacco of any form is a cake walk. Im saddened at the loss of tony gwynn but the truth is his problem was one he could’ve easily stopped IF HE WANTED TO. he most likely didn’t want to, which is his perogative as a man. RIP TG.

  14. rcali - Jun 17, 2014 at 12:12 AM

    By the way, all those fruits and vegtables you eat are filled with cancer causing pesticides.
    Signed Dr. Oz.

  15. modeman66 - Jun 24, 2014 at 9:30 AM

    There is no scientifically established link between smokeless tobacco and salivary gland cancer, according to the American Council on Science and Health. Doctors don’t know what causes salivary gland cancer, but the Mayo Clinic lists old age and radiation as known risk factors.
    “The kind of chewing tobacco Gwynn used does have some risk of oral cancer, but not parotid (salivary) gland cancer, which is the kind that took his life at such a young age,” said Dr. Gilbert Ross, the council’s medical director.

    • 18thstreet - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:35 AM

      With a name like, “The American Council on Science and Health,” you may be convinced that this is a mainstream organization. It is not. It’s been a few years since I worked in tobacco control, but they were not respected among mainstream organizations while I was there. There are legitimate arguments about whether smokeless tobacco might be a harm-reduction strategy, in that smokeless tobacco is awful, but at least there’s no second-hand smoke. ACSH went much, much farther than THAT, pretty much stating that there’s nothing wrong with smokeless tobacco, which is hogwash.

      Suffice it to say, the organization is controversial.

  16. modeman66 - Jun 24, 2014 at 9:31 AM

    There is no scientifically established link between smokeless tobacco and salivary gland cancer, according to the American Council on Science and Health. Doctors don’t know what causes salivary gland cancer, but the Mayo Clinic lists old age and radiation as known risk factors.
    “The kind of chewing tobacco Gwynn used does have some risk of oral cancer, but not parotid (salivary) gland cancer, which is the kind that took his life at such a young age,” said Dr. Gilbert Ross, the council’s medical director.

  17. carol2000 - Jun 26, 2014 at 11:35 PM

    This is FRAUD. Cytomegalovirus is a proven cause of salivary gland cancer. “Given that hCMV is frequently resident in salivary gland (SG) ductal epithelium, we hypothesized that hCMV would be important to the pathogenesis of SG mucoepidermoid carcinoma (MEC). This was initially supported by our finding that purified CMV induces malignant transformation in SG cells in an in vitro mouse model, and utilizes a pathogenic pathway previously reported for human MEC…” In 39 carcinomas, “All four prospective causal criteria for viruses and cancer are fully satisfied: (1) protein markers for active hCMV are present in 97% of MECs; (2) markers of active hCMV are absent in non-neoplastic SG tissues; (3) hCMV-specific proteins (IE1, pp65) are in specific cell types and expression is positively correlated with severity; (4) hCMV correlates and colocalizes with an upregulation and activation of an established oncogenic signaling pathway (COX/AREG/EGFR/ERK). Thus, the evidential support reported here and previously in a mouse model is strongly confirmatory of a causal relationship between hCMV and SG mucoepidermoid carcinoma.”

    Mucoepidermoid carcinoma is the most common malignant major and minor salivary gland tumor. Other types are caused by Epstein-Barr virus.

    • 18thstreet - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:38 AM

      Who do you work for, exactly?

      • carol2000 - Jul 2, 2014 at 11:09 PM

        This is an important breakthrough, because taking acyclovir (the shingles drug that also works on some other herpesviruses) ” results in complete SG rescue (tumor regression).” This is new, so it’s quite possible he had the right kind of tumor but his doctors didn’t know about this, and he might have been saved.

      • 18thstreet - Jul 3, 2014 at 10:09 AM

        I’m really curious what kind of person spends time looking for explanations of why tobacco’s not that bad. The first time you posted about this was literally 10 days after the original post. So presumably, you had to really hunt for the article and the anti-tobacco commentary about it. It’s a baseball blog!

        So, tell me: who do you work for? What kind of person spends time telling people tobacco might not be as bad as we think it is? I assume that someone who gets paid by tobacco companies would say that.

      • carol2000 - Aug 6, 2014 at 10:36 PM

        You mean, you can’t answer the science so you resort to ad hominem. That’s the typical anti-smoker tactic. And the only people who’ve ever been paid is YOUR ilk. The tobacco companies don’t even attack the anti-smokers’ scientific fraud in the courtrooms, where it really matters, so this shows up your sleazy insinuation that they’d pay people to do it on the internet for the cheap slander that it is.

        And pray tell, how long would it take YOUR ilk to find out about acyclovir, even to save your own worthless behinds?

      • 18thstreet - Aug 7, 2014 at 9:38 AM

        I used to work for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. That’s how I know this stuff. I don’t any more; I left them in 2008, so they don’t pay me to write.

        Who do you work for?

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