Chewing Tobacco on the Baseball Field ‘Ruined My Life’

By Sadie Bass

Apr 14, 2010 9:54am

ABC's Tom Shine reports from Washington: He is the face of smokeless tobacco.  When he was a young kid he played baseball, a sport he loved.  Back then, he says, he hit a .400 for the local Comets baseball club and dreamed someday he might play for the Chicago Cubs.  But that never happened.  Instead, today Gruen Von Behrens will sit before a Henry Waxman committee, his lower face badly disfigured, warning kids that smokeless tobacco "is not as harmless as advertising would have you believe."
 
"It has ruined my life.  I am 32 years old and I have experienced 34 surgeries, including one radical surgery that removed half of my neck muscles, lymph nodes and a third of my tongue."  His first surgery, at age 17, lasted 13 hours and his doctors told him that there was "an 80 percent chance I was going to die." Just wanting to "fit in" on a camping trip, he first tried smokeless tobacco at age 13.  "My first experience with smokeless tobacco resulted in a powerful addiction that affected my life in a way I never imagined."
 
Today' s hearing is aimed squarely at Major League Baseball and the use of smokeless tobacco by its players.  There is a ban on the use and possession of all tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco, in the monor leagues, a ban that includes fines for players and their managers if broken, but there is no ban on the use of smokeless tobacco in the big leagues and Professor Gregory Connolly, of the Harvard School of Public Health, says young baseball fans are badly influenced by their heroes' use of it.
 
Connolly is especially worried about the glorification of smokeless tobacco use on social networking sites visited by teenagers such as Facebook.  "We found many groups on Facebook dedicated to MLB players using smokeless tobacco with a total of thousands of members all extolling the virtues of SLT use."  The professor gives some examples:
 
Joe: "Dustin Pedroia packs bombs, so does Youlk they are probably 2 of the biggest up and coming stars of the Red Sox."
 
Nick: "yo who saw the game 4 of the yank and indians…toward the end the camera guy had damon and jeter…all u see is damon gettin rid of his bomb…"
 
Travis: "The bigger the dip, the better he plays!!"
 
And then there was this posting — "BASEBALL and SKOAL…GOD BLESS AMERICA"   

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