Chewing tobacco is a type of smokeless tobacco product consumed by placing a portion of the tobacco between the cheek and gum or upper lip teeth and chewing. Unlike dipping tobacco, it is not ground and must be manually crushed with the teeth to release flavour and nicotine. Unwanted juices are then expectorated (spat).
Chewing tobacco is typically manufactured as several varieties of product – most often as loose leaf (or scrap), pellets (tobacco "bites" or "bits"), and "plug" (a form of loose leaf tobacco condensed with a binding sweetener). Nearly all modern chewing tobaccos are produced via a process of leaf curing, cutting, fermentation and processing or sweetening. Historically, many American chewing tobacco brands (which were popular during the American Civil War era) were made with cigar clippings.
Oral and spit tobacco increase the risk for leukoplakia, a precursor to oral cancer. Chewing tobacco has been known to cause cancer, particularly of the mouth and throat. According to International Agency for Research on Cancer, "Some health scientists have suggested that smokeless tobacco should be used in smoking cessation programs and have made implicit or explicit claims that its use would partly reduce the exposure of smokers to carcinogens and the risk for cancer. These claims, however, are not supported by the available evidence."
Chewing is one of the oldest methods of consuming tobacco. Indigenous peoples of the Americas in both North and South America chewed the leaves of the plant long before the arrival of Europeans, frequently mixed with the mineral lime, in the same way as coca leaves.
The southern United States was distinctive for its production of tobacco, which earned premium prices from around the world. Most farmers grew a little for their own use, or traded with neighbours who grew it. Commercial sales became important in the late 19th century as major tobacco companies rose in the South, becoming one of the largest employers in cities like Winston-Salem, NC, Durham, NC, and Richmond, VA. Southerners dominated the tobacco industry in the United States; even a concern as large as the Helme Tobacco Company, headquartered in New Jersey, was headed by former Confederate officer George Washington Helme. In 1938 R.J. Reynolds marketed eighty-four brands of chewing tobacco, twelve brands of smoking tobacco, and the top-selling Camel brand of cigarettes. Reynolds sold large quantities of chewing tobacco, though that market peaked about 1910.
A historian of the American South in the late 1860s reported on typical usage in the region where it was grown, paying close attention to class and gender:
The chewing of tobacco was well-nigh universal. This habit had been widespread among the agricultural population of America both North and South before the war. Soldiers had found the quid a solace in the field and continued to revolve it in their mouths upon returning to their homes. Out of doors where his life was principally led the chewer spat upon his lands without offence to other men, and his homes and public buildings were supplied with spittoons. Brown and yellow parabolas were projected to right and left toward these receivers, but very often without the careful aim which made for cleanly living. Even the pews of fashionable churches were likely to contain these familiar conveniences. The large numbers of Southern men, and these were of the better class (officers in the Confederate army and planters, worth $20,000 or more, and barred from general amnesty) who presented themselves for the pardon of President Johnson, while they sat awaiting his pleasure in the ante-room at the White House, covered its floor with pools and rivulets of their spittle. An observant traveller in the South in 1865 said that in his belief seven-tenths of all persons above the age of twelve years, both male and female, used tobacco in some form. Women could be seen at the doors of their cabins in their bare feet, in their dirty one-piece cotton garments, their chairs tipped back, smoking pipes made of corn cobs into which were fitted reed stems or goose quills. Boys of eight or nine years of age and half-grown girls smoked. Women and girls "dipped" in their houses, on their porches, in the public parlours of hotels and in the streets.
Chewing tobacco is still used, predominantly by young males in some parts of the American Southeast, but also in other areas and age groups. In September 2006 both the Republican and Democratic candidates for Senator from Virginia admitted to chewing tobacco and agreed that it sets a bad example for children.
In the late 19th century, during the peak in popularity of chewing tobacco in the western United States, a device known as the spittoon was a ubiquitous feature throughout places both private and public (e.g. parlours and passenger cars). The purpose of the spittoon was to provide a receptacle for excess juices and spittle accumulated from the oral use of tobacco. As chewing tobacco's popularity declined throughout the years, the spittoon became merely a relic of the Old West and is rarely seen outside museums. Spittoons are still present on the floor of the U.S. Senate's old chamber, honored as tradition.
Chewing tobacco comes in several different varieties.
Loose leaf chewing tobacco is the most widely available and most frequently used type of chewing tobacco. It consists of shredded tobacco leaf, usually sweetened and sometimes flavored, and often sold in a sealed pouch weighing on average 3oz. Loose leaf chewing tobacco has a sticky texture due to the sweeteners added. Common loose leaf chewing tobaccos include Red Man, Levi Garrett, Beechnut, and Stoker's.
Plug chewing tobacco is pressed tobacco leaves into a square, brick-like mass of tobacco called a plug. From this, pieces are bitten off or cut from the plug and then chewed. Plug tobacco is declining in popularity and is thus less readily available than loose leaf chewing tobacco. Historically, plug tobacco could be either smoked in a pipe or chewed, but today these are two distinct products.
Twist chewing tobacco is a rope-like piece of tobacco twisted together. Unlike most loose leaf tobaccos, twist chewing tobacco is usually not sweetened. Pieces of twist are either bitten off or cut and then chewed. Twist chewing tobacco is not widely available and is mostly found in Appalachia. Historically, twists could also be smoked in a pipe, or ground up into nasal snuff.
Chew bags are traditional cut tobacco in a small bag containing between 0.5 and 1 gram each. Chew bags are used in much the same way as other chewing tobaccos although they have the appearance of snus portions. Chew bags are defined by European Commission, European Binding Tariff Information (EBTI) as cut or fine cut tobacco flakes (between 1-2 mm wide and 2-6 mm long) packed in sachets. By varying the sachet between the upper lip and by chewing, the consumer controls the release of flavor or nicotine.
Chewing tobacco and baseball
When the rules of baseball were first written in 1845, the carcinogenic potential of chewing tobacco was unknown. At that time, it was commonly used by players and coaches alike. Smokeless tobacco use became rampant by players by the early 1900s. They liked chewing tobacco because it kept their mouths (and their mitts) moist on the dusty infield. The use of chewing tobacco in baseball steadily increased until the mid-20th century, when cigarettes became popular and took the place of some players' smokeless tobacco habit. Today, however, more baseball players are actually using dipping tobacco, not chewing tobacco.
Notable players affected by chewing tobacco
As shown below, a number of notable players have died of oral cancer as a result. Joe Garagiola, who quit, warns about chewing tobacco:
"I tell these guys, 'You may not like what I say, but with lung cancer you die of lung cancer,'" ... "With oral cancer, you die one piece at a time. They operate on your neck, they operate on your jaw, they operate on your throat."
Bill Tuttle was a Major League player who made a big name for himself both through baseball and his anti-chewing-tobacco efforts. Tuttle was an outfielder for the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Athletics, and the Minnesota Twins. He was an avid tobacco chewer; even his baseball cards pictured him with a bulge in his cheek from the tobacco. Nearly forty years after he began using smokeless tobacco, Tuttle developed a tumor in his mouth so severe it protruded through his skin. A few years before he died, Tuttle had many of his teeth, his jawbone, his gums, and his right cheekbone removed. He also had his taste buds removed. Tuttle dedicated the last years of his life to speaking with Major League teams about not using chewing tobacco where television cameras could see the players so that children could not witness and be influenced by it. He also dedicated time to the National Spit Tobacco Education Program, which was being run by friend and former Major League player, Joe Garagiola. Tuttle died July 27, 1998, after a five-year battle with cancer.
Babe Ruth, perhaps the most famous player of all time, also died of throat cancer. In the mid-1940s, Ruth was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal carcinoma (cancer of the upper throat). The top two causes of this disease are alcohol and tobacco; Ruth was a heavy user of both.
Rex Barney, who began his career at age 19 pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers, later recounted that his coach told him he had to begin chewing tobacco if he ever wanted to be a Major League pitcher. Barney contracted a sickness from chewing and was unable to play in the first game he was supposed to start in.
- 1845: Baseball rules written, chewing tobacco use among players already rampant.
- 1890: Dr. Robert Koch shows that the spitting of chewing tobacco was leading to a spread of tuberculosis. This leads to a downturn in use of chewing tobacco among the general population, but baseball players continue use.
- 1909: Honus Wagner, a well-known American baseball player, tells American Tobacco Company to take his picture off of their cartons. He does not want to be responsible for influencing children to smoke.
- 1948: Babe Ruth dies of throat cancer at age 53.
- 1950s: Use of smokeless tobacco decreases as players make the switch to cigarettes.
- 1970: Players' use of smokeless tobacco increases once again when the U.S. Government begins to warn against the potential risks of smoking.
- 1984: Sean Marsee, who won 28 track medals at Talihina High school, in Talihina, Oklahoma, dies of oral cancer at the age of 19 after dipping Copenhagen snuff for six years since age 12.
- 1986: Betty Ann Marsee, mother of the late Sean Marsee, lost her lawsuit in Federal court on June 20, 1986, against the United States Tobacco Company for $137 million plus $10 million for pain and suffering. Ms. Marsee testified during the trial her son believed snuff was safe because it carried no warning label, and because athletes like former Dallas Cowboy running back Walt Garrison advertised it. Dr. Carl Hook, who treated Marsee in the early stages of the disease, testified that the teenager's oral cancer was caused by snuff.
- 1989: Betty Ann Marsee, mother of the late Sean Marsee, loses her appeal in the United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, on January 10, 1989.
- 1993: Minor League players, coaches, and staff prohibited from smokeless tobacco use during games.
- 1998: Bill Tuttle, anti-chewing-tobacco spokesperson and former MLB player, dies at the age of 69 after a five-year battle with cancer.
- 2010: San Diego Padres HOFer Tony Gwynn is diagnosed with cancer of a salivary gland which he says is due to him still using chew. Gwynn died of the disease in 2014.
- 2011: New five-year labor deal prevents the use of smokeless tobacco during pre and post-game interviews. However does not ban the use during games as long as the can or pouch is out of sight.
- 2016: A new collective bargaining agreement prohibits all new Major League Baseball players from using smokeless tobacco.
Baseball players' use effect on youth
There is debate over whether players should be banned from using tobacco products during the games. The Major League Baseball Players Association disagrees, claiming it is a legal substance and therefore is acceptable to be used during games. Harvard School of Public Health professor, Gregory Connolly, however, says "the use of smokeless tobacco by players has a powerful role model effect on youth particularly among young males in sport, some of whom remain addicted in future careers as professional athletes." According to Connolly, one quarter of Minor League players do not support allowing the use of chewing tobacco during games, and one third of Major League players support abolishing it. Due to health concerns, the MLB was asked to ban the use of chewing tobacco during the 2011 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers.
Many believe that the widespread use of chewing tobacco by baseball players has led to a rampant increase in youth, and particularly teen, use. Additionally, teen use of smokeless tobacco has increased, while use of all tobacco products by teens has decreased. This is true especially among white and Hispanic males. In 1970, five times as many 65-and-older males used smokeless tobacco as 18- to 24-year-olds did (12.7% of the population were 65+ male users, 2.2% of the population were 18–24 male users). More specifically, moist snuff use increased for males ages 18–24 from 1% of the population to 6.2% of the population, while 65+ male users decreased from 4% to 2.2%.
A 2009 survey by The U.S. Center for Disease Control revealed that 8.9% of U.S. high school students had used smokeless tobacco on at least 1 day during the 30 days before the survey. Usage was more common among males (15.0%) than females (2.2%) and among whites (11.9%) than blacks (3.3%) or Hispanics (5.1%). The five states with the highest percentage of high school users were Wyoming (16.2%) North Dakota (15.3%) South Dakota (14.6%) Montana (14.6%) and West Virginia (14.4%).
Notable chewing tobacco brands include:
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