Spring is in the air. For me, the unofficial start of spring is opening day for baseball. America’s national past time brings to mind so many great images; green grass, cracker jacks, heros in pinstripes but what about oral cancer? When I was growing up it was rare to see a professional baseball player not using chewing (smokeless) tobacco. Today, Major League Baseball has gone to great lengths to limit smokeless tobacco use and exposure to the fans. Last season, 2012, was the first year these restrictions were in place. Players are no longer able to carry a tobacco tin or package in their uniforms at games or any time that fans are in the ballpark. Players are also banned from using tobacco during interviews, team sponsored appearances and autograph signings. Unfortunately, smokeless tobacco is still a major problem in the United States. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 11% of high school boys and 1.5% of high school girls use chewing tobacco. The most popular myth is that smokeless tobacco is safer than cigarettes. The fact is that tobacco, in any form, can be harmful to your health and that smokeless tobacco can contain up to 4 times as much nicotine as a cigarette. Of the estimated 10 million Americans abusing smokeless tobacco, approximately 3 million are below 21 years of age. Last year, approximately 54,000 Americans were diagnosed with oral cancers and approximately 13,500 deaths. Historically, the death rate associated with oral cancer is particularly high not because it is hard to discover of diagnose, but do to the cancer being routinely discovered late in its development. The mortality rate of oral cancer is higher than Hodgkin’s lymphoma, testicular cancer, thyroid cancer and even malignant melanoma. It’s estimated that the approximately $3.2 billion is spent each year in the United States on the treatment of head and neck cancer. If you or someone you know uses smokeless tobacco encourage them to see a dentist regularly to discuss ways to quit and for a thorough cancer screening. Oral cancer is typically asymptomatic (painless) and often develops initially as nothing more than a painless white patch (leukoplakia), as shown in the photo. The National Cancer Institute offers free information about quitting smokeless tobacco, the Smoking Quitline is 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848). So whether your a Yankees fan or a Red Sox fan, let’s all come together and help spread the word about the dangers of oral cancer and smokeless tobacco.