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High school athletes are trading cigarettes for chewing tobacco, snuff, and dip

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High school athletes don't smoke as many cigarettes as non-athletes — but they do use chewing tobacco, snuff, or dip a lot more. The findings suggests that teen athletes may think smokeless tobacco is less harmful than other tobacco products, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That's a dangerous misconception, the study authors write, as smokeless tobacco still contains ingredients that cause cancer and other adverse health effects.

Even when it’s not smoked, tobacco can have harmful effects. People who use chewing tobacco are less likely to develop lung cancer than those who smoke cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Yet smokeless tobacco contains nicotine, which can lead to addiction, as well as damage a still-developing adolescent brain, according to the National Institutes of Health. These products also contain carcinogens that can cause cancers of the mouth, esophagus, and pancreas, according to the study published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Teen athletes may think smokeless tobacco is less harmful than other tobacco products

Every six months, students were asked to describe their tobacco use in the previous 30 days. Overall use of tobacco products dropped to 22.4 percent in 2013 from 33.9 percent in 2001 among high school students. However, teenage athletes actually increased their use of smokeless tobacco — to 11.1 percent from 10 percent. It’s not a huge jump, but that’s nearly twice as many smokeless tobacco users among student athletes, compared to their non-athlete peers. Athletes were much less likely to use combustible tobacco like cigarettes than students who weren't on sports teams.

Student athletes may be misinformed about the effects of tobacco products, the CDC says. Teenagers might be aware that smoking cigarettes can hurt athletic performance but incorrectly believe that smokeless tobacco is harmless or that it can actually boost athletic ability. High schools should be doing more to protect students from getting addicted to tobacco and nicotine, according to CDC Director Tom Frieden. "Because we know tobacco-free policies in schools and other public recreational areas work, we must take action now so that our children are safe from these toxins," said Frieden in a statement.