Tony Gwynn By all accounts, Tony Gwynn was a great baseball player and a genuinely good guy. He was also yet another athlete with a tobbacco habit.

Now, a little less than two years after his death, his family has filed a wrongful death suit.

The suit was filed in Superior Court in San Diego against Altria Group Inc., the tobacco giant formerly known as Philip Morris, and several other defendants who are accused of inducing Gwynn to begin using smokeless tobacco, or dip, at San Diego State University, which he attended from 1977 to 1981 and where he later coached after a 20-year career with the San Diego Padres.

For 31 years — 1977 to 2008 — Gwynn used one and a half to two cans of smokeless tobacco (usually Skoal) per day. It was the equivalent, the suit says, of four to five packs of cigarettes every day for 31 years.

Recently, Sports Illustrated published a long, sad yet fascinating read about the whole matter, including the tobacco companies’ “historically cozy relationship” with Major League Baseball and reforms that followed the death of “Mr. Padre.” We highly recommend you click over and read the whole thing for yourself.

One point especially jumped out at us.

Initially, in media reports at the time of Gwynn’s death, the link between Gwynn’s habit and his cancer was questioned by two of Gwynn’s San Diego-based doctors: Prabhakar Tripuraneni, the head of radiation oncology at Scripps Clinic; and Loren Mell, a consultant of the Gwynns who is the chief of head and neck radiation oncology service at the Moores Cancer Center. Even as they acknowledged that smokeless tobacco could lead to plenty of heath problems, “in the case of parotid cancers, there’s not a single, unified cause that’s identified,” Mell told the San Diego Union Tribune in 2014. “He may have chewed tobacco, but that’s not likely to be the cause.”

While the article goes on to say that “Mell is reconsidering that position,” there’s actually some truth here. For while there’s little doubt that tobacco use contributed to Gwynn’s death, cancer is, in fact, a multifactorial condition. While there may be major triggers, it’s the state of the extracellular matrix and a dynamic of many environmental and lifestyle factors that ultimately give rise to the cluster of symptoms we call cancer.

As we noted before, with respect to oral cancer,

It’s the way of much modern illness. It’s not just the smoking. It’s not just the heavy drinking. It’s not just the HPV. It’s not just stress. It’s not just the drugs. It’s not just any one choice or habit or happenstance at all.

It’s everything coming together into a dynamic that gives rise to disease. The body does its best to continue to self-regulate, but the more burdened it becomes, the less effectively and efficiently it can do this.

And here’s where we have a choice: Do we try to force it to work like a healthy body, manipulating it with drugs, surgery and other routine interventions and call it a success when symptoms are concealed?

Or do we work on repairing the body’s self-regulating mechanisms so they can restore and sustain health as they were designed to do?

Anyhow, the SI article is worth a read. Head on over and read the whole thing.

Image by Deejay, via Flickr

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