Constable: Smokeless tobacco ban, Cubs both "awesome"
As the Chicago Cubs' starting shortstop, 22-year-old Addison Russell is building a reputation as a complete ballplayer. An elite fielder with a reliable arm, Russell got two hits Wednesday to help the 20-6 Cubs sweep the Pittsburgh Pirates. Russell also has driven in 14 runs and contributed clutch, game-winning hits. But he's missing something that first became part of his game during high school.
In the season's home opener, Russell, playing without a wad of cancer-causing chewing tobacco in his mouth for the first time at Wrigley Field, cracked a 3-run home run that propelled his Cubs to an amazing 5-3 win.
"Which I think is awesome," says South Barrington dentist Katina Spadoni, who is glad Russell is helping the Cubs compile the best record in baseball but uses her "awesome" to describe Chicago's upcoming ban on smokeless tobacco at sports venues. "I think this whole ban on smokeless tobacco is a great start."
The ban doesn't take effect until June, but Russell, as fans might expect, got the jump on snuffing out the deadly habit. The shortstop, who tells Daily Herald Cubs beat reporter Bruce Miles that he's chewing gum instead now, smashed a key triple in one of last week's victories against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Smokeless tobacco causes oral, esophageal and pancreatic cancer, and it may play a key role in heart disease, gum disease and other oral lesions, according to the National Institutes of Health. Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn died in 2014 at age 54, and he blamed his salivary-gland cancer on his 20-year habit of chewing tobacco. Somewhere between a quarter and a third of MLB players still chew tobacco, according to most estimates.
Unlike cigarettes, which harm others with secondhand smoke, chewing tobacco is a self-destructive addiction. But Chicago's ban, pushed by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, aims to protect children.
"I say hurray, not only as a dentist, but as a mom," says Spadoni, who will celebrate Mother's Day with Isabella, her 18-year-old daughter. In a 2015 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette use dropped from 31.5 percent to 19.5 percent from 2001 to 2013 among high school students, while use of smokeless tobacco increased from 10 percent to 11.1 percent among teen athletes.
"I see it in my young athletes, as young as high school," says Spadoni, 55, who lives in South Barrington and also serves as the dental director of Delta Dental of Illinois, a member of the largest dental benefits carrier in the nation.
One of her patients, who plays lacrosse in college, chews tobacco and tries to dismiss the risk.
"Well, I move it around," he told Spadoni, explaining how he didn't let the wad sit in one spot on his gums all game.
"Well, that's not the answer. By moving it around, you're just creating more areas where you could get cancer," the dentist responded. "Your mouth is like a sponge. The mouth is so vascular, it (the carcinogens) can be absorbed very quickly."
Having picked up his smokeless tobacco habit in high school, the Cubs' Russell embraces the ban.
"I think it's a good thing for baseball," the shortstop told ESPN. "At the end of the day, it's going to better our health. I'm all up for it."
A good example changes behavior, says U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.
"When kids see their baseball heroes using spit tobacco on the field or in the dugout, they're more likely to pick up the habit themselves," Durbin says in an online post praising the ban.
"People forget that the mouth is connected to the rest of the body," says Spadoni, who shares the South Barrington Dental practice with her sister, Rosella Spadoni. "Infection in the gum is going to be carried throughout the body."
Dentists often are the first to suspect oral cancer.
"Get to know what's normal. Pull your tongue and look for things," Spadoni says.
Baseball players, whether pros at Wrigley or teens in high school, need to quit chewing tobacco, the dentist says. Bans can help make that happen.
"There's definitely going to be withdrawal," Spadoni says. "It's not so easy to do. That's another reason to stop these kids before they start."