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The bigger victory: Nationals star discusses struggle to quit dip as National Public Health Week begins

behavioral research / health research / social marketing / youth / blog

The Nationals’ home opener may not have gone as planned, but yesterday they came through with the win and a stellar kickoff to another opening day – that of National Public Health Week (NPHW).

Ian Desmond delivered the game-winning homer against the Braves, but the “bigger victory” he spoke of after the game was going the entire game without dip. Like many other tobacco users, Desmond began his habit as a teenager – underscoring the importance of prevention efforts (a key theme of this year’s NPHW).

Nationals star Ian Desmond

Through his description of his struggle to quit, Desmond highlighted several themes potentially key to the success of prevention efforts.

  1. Tradition. Smokeless tobacco has a long history with baseball – by some accounts since the early 1900s.Even today, as Major League Baseball has tried to discourage its use, players can be seen with tobacco packed in their cheeks. However, Desmond is the most recent of several players that have gone on record saying it’s a habit they’d like to kick. Respecting and accounting for traditions that include tobacco are certainly a tricky aspect of messaging to certain geographies and cultures, but trusted insiders can be catalysts for shifts.
  2. Social support. An obvious factor in successful cessation attempts, social support plays an important role in prevention as well. Particularly for teens thinking about trying tobacco products, the struggle to fit in is a powerful force. Often this struggle is less about overt pressure and more about internal uncertainty. Reinforcement that the bonds between friends and family run much deeper than a potential connection through dip could be a game changer. And, you don’t have to look any further than the photograph above to see that.
  3. Control. Nicotine dependence is often described as a loss of control. For example, the World Health Organization cites an “impaired capacity to control substance-taking behavior” and “unsuccessful efforts to reduce or control substance use” in its explanation of dependence. Interestingly, tobacco users often demonstrate an optiisim bias – they believe these risks exist for some people but that they are unlikely to be affected themselves. When it comes to control, they believe they are in control and can quit at any time. Hearing someone like Desmond say tobacco has control over him could be extremely impactful to youngsters considering that “harmless” first pinch.
Later this week, we’ll attend the Reduce Tobacco Use Conference where prevention of youth initiation is sure to be a big topic. Role models like Desmond could go a long way to break the cycle. Best of luck to him – we’re pulling for you!---

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