It’s almost baseball season, which means it’s time for anti-tobacco extremists to start grabbing easy headlines. One especially zealous state lawmaker wants to ban smokeless tobacco by players and fans in all California ballparks (here). It’s all based on smoke and mirrors, as illustrated in a woefully inaccurate recent BBC story on smokeless tobacco and baseball.
The report includes an erroneous claim that baseball stars Tony Gwynn, Curt Schilling and Babe Ruth died from cancers caused by smokeless tobacco.
Neither Gwynn’s nor Schilling’s cancer was related to smokeless products, as I have detailed before (here and here). Reporter Nada Tawfik concedes that “doctors say a link between [Gwynn’s salivary] cancer and chewing tobacco cannot be proven.” I have previously noted the absence of a scientific link between smokeless tobacco and this cancer type (here). As for Schilling, he never said he had mouth cancer and not one of his doctors has supported his statement that smokeless tobacco caused his illness.
The BBC repeated the decades-old myth that Babe Ruth suffered from smokeless tobacco-induced mouth cancer. In truth, Ruth had nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a rare disease caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. Ruth was a prodigious consumer of cigars and alcohol, but neither are strongly associated with nasopharyngeal carcinoma (discussed here). He also used smokeless tobacco, which has no link to this cancer type.
Included in the BBC story was a remarkable quote attributed to Dr. Jatin Shah, who runs the Head and Neck Service at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Chewing tobacco, he is reported to have said, is “probably more harmful than smoking.” I emailed Dr. Shah to ask if he had been misquoted. He responded with a comment on South Asian products, but the BBC’s vast audience has been left with the grossly erroneous impression that American smokeless tobacco is more dangerous than cigarettes.
Thus are myths perpetuated and the public health undermined.