While cigarette smoking among high school athletes has continued to decrease, a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that athletes are using smokeless tobacco at a higher rate than their peers.
Data from the national Youth Risk Behavior Surveys also found that current use of traditional tobacco products, like cigarettes, among all high school students dropped dramatically and the current use of smokeless tobacco, like chewing tobacco, remained the same for non-athletes. Smokeless tobacco rates for athletes, however, increased.
Between 2001 and 2013 cigarette use dropped from 32 percent to 20 percent among all high school students. Use of smokeless tobacco for non-athletes remains at about 6 percent. Athletes were already using smokeless tobacco at a higher rate than their peers, but that percentage increased slightly from 10 percent to 11 percent.
The CDC believes that athletes are smoking less cigarettes because they are aware that smoking can hurt their athletic performance. Athletes may perceive smokeless tobacco as harmless, socially acceptable and maybe even a way to boost their performance. Smokeless tobacco is far from harmless as it contains nicotine and chemicals that can lead to oral cancer. Smokeless tobacco can also increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The data also show that the more sports an athlete plays, the more likely he or she is to use smokeless tobacco. In 2013 about 10 percent of athletes who played on one team used smokeless tobacco. That number increased to 11.5 percent and 12.5 percent for students participating in two or three sports teams, respectively.
The opposite was true for cigarette use. The more teams on which an athlete played, the less likely he or she was to use cigarettes.
The CDC says that the tobacco industry has marketed smokeless products as an alternative to cigarettes in situations where smoking isn't allowed. With more places being off limits to smokers, athletes might turn to chewing tobacco as an alternative. Creating environments that are completely tobacco free might make smokeless tobacco less socially acceptable.
More information about the study can be found on the CDC website.