Although overall tobacco use among high school students has declined, the percentage of high school athletes who use smokeless tobacco has increased, according to research presented in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
“We can do more to protect American’s youth from a lifetime of addiction,” CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said in a press release. “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.”
Israel T. Agaku, DMD, of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and colleagues analyzed data from the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 2001 through 2013.
During that time, the percentage of high school students who reported using combustible and smokeless tobacco declined from 33.9% to 22.4%.
However, use of smokeless tobacco among athletes increased from 10% to 11.1%. Smokeless tobacco use among non-athletes remained unchanged (5.9%) during the survey periods.
Researchers determined high school athletes were significantly more likely than non-athletes to be smokeless tobacco users (adjusted OR = 1.77; P < .05), but athletes were significantly less likely to be combustible tobacco users (adjusted OR = 0.8; P < .05).
“Tobacco use among youth athletes is of particular concern because most adult tobacco users first try tobacco before age 18,” Brian King, PhD, deputy director for research translation in the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, said in a press release. “The younger people are when they start using tobacco, the more likely they are to become addicted and the more heavily addicted they can become.”
The findings provide insights that could help maximize educational efforts, the researchers said.
“Sports activities present opportunities to reach young persons with public health interventions,” Agaku and colleagues wrote. “Tobacco education programs tailored to high school athletes — coupled with other population-level, evidence-based interventions — have the potential to increase awareness of the dangers of tobacco use and to reduce the use of all forms of tobacco, including smokeless tobacco, among youth.” – by Jeff Craven
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.