FDA campaign takes aim at chewing tobacco use by rural teens

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The campaign message is 'Smokeless Doesn't Mean Harmless'. (WPVI)

The government and minor league baseball teams are joining forces to discourage teenagers from using chewing tobacco.

The campaign message is 'Smokeless Doesn't Mean Harmless'.

Baseball stadiums will feature the campaign's central message this summer - "smokeless doesn't mean harmless" - via advertising and promotions with players.

It will also be on television, radio, and print ads in 35 cities in minor league cities, including cities in Michigan, Montana, South Carolina and Tennessee.

The Food and Drug Administration says its latest effort targets white, rural males who are more likely to use dip, chew and other smokeless tobacco products.

Roughly 32 percent of rural males ages 12 to 17, or roughly 629,000 Americans, are at-risk for using chewing tobacco, according to the agency.

FDA's Mitch Zeller, director of the agency's tobacco program, said smokeless tobacco is culturally ingrained in many rural communities as a "rite of passage".

"Often male teenagers in rural communities are accustomed to seeing smokeless tobacco use among role models, such as their fathers and grandfathers, older brothers and community leaders," he told reporters.

Zeller, who oversaw the anti-tobacco "Truth" campaign while working at the nonprofit American Legacy Foundation in the early 2000s, said many young people don't understand the health effects of smokeless tobacco.

The new campaign is the first FDA effort to focus on those risks, including gum disease, tooth loss and multiple forms of cancer.

The FDA is reaching out to Major League Baseball on similar collaborations, agency officials said.

The government effort comes as leading tobacco companies increase their focus on snuff, chewing tobacco and electronic cigarettes amid tax hikes, smoking bans, health concerns and social stigma that continue to erode cigarette sales.

It comes as *Major League Baseball unveiled a public service ad with former Phillies pitcher Curt Schilling talking candidly about his addiction to chewing tobacco - and the signs of oral cancer he ignored.

"The lesions, the loss of gum tissue, the loss of the sense of taste and smell. My mouth would bleed every night when I brushed my teeth - still no big deal," he says in the ad.

It wasn't till he developed cancer that he realized the serious effect his tobacco use caused.

Schilling had treatment for throat cancer two years ago. He is now in remission.

Since then, he's been actively working to convince players and fans not to use smokeless tobacco.

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