Healthy Living in the North

It’s not about the smoke

Young child holding a hockey stick and wearing a hockey helmet.

Tobacco use is a significant problem on hockey teams. As a parent, coach, or adult player, there are things you can do to prevent or stop tobacco use in sports.

It’s that time of year again. Hockey fans are busy digging out hockey gear, getting skates sharpened and taping sticks – getting ready for the first puck drop of the season.

Unfortunately, hockey has a dark secret – one that’s more commonly associated with Major League Baseball. It’s a problem you can neither see, usually, nor smell. Organized hockey has a tobacco problem that has made its way into the sport — from children as young as 13 to NHL professionals. The problem is the use of chewing tobacco or snus.

The Sport Medicine and Science Council of Manitoba recently surveyed 2,000 athletes aged 12-21 regarding substance use. The survey found that 52 per cent of male hockey players used chewing tobacco or snus. By the age of twenty, 75 per cent of Manitoba hockey players who took part in the survey reported that they had tried “chew.”

They also found that youth in grades 9-12 who participated in team sports had nearly double the risk of trying smokeless tobacco.

Another study by the Waterloo Sports Medicine Centre and University of Waterloo in 2010 found that smokeless tobacco use among Canadian hockey players appears to be common, with results comparable to similar studies in the U.S.

We’re all aware of the dangers associated with the use of smoking. However, I’d be willing to bet a bag of pucks that not many of us are aware of how many hockey players use smokeless tobacco. For hockey parents, this can be particularly troubling as the sport that they put their child in to keep them active and healthy could potentially lead to tobacco use.

But there are some things you can do about it:

  • If you’re a hockey parent, make sure that you talk to your children about tobacco. Be involved in the game and help out. Don’t just drop your child off in the dressing room and then head for the bleachers. Make sure you know what’s going on.
  • Coaches have a big influence on the players they work with. If you’re a coach, use that influence to send the message that tobacco and hockey don’t belong in the same arena.
  • If you’re a player, don’t use any form of tobacco. Whether you play in a fun recreational league or a highly competitive elite league, some young hockey player is probably looking up to you. To your children, you are the best player on the ice. Set the example for them.

Hockey organizations and municipalities can also develop, promote, and enforce tobacco-free policies that address tobacco use. Tobacco-free policies send the message that hockey and tobacco don’t mix, but to be effective, they also need to be promoted and adhered to. That means everyone from the fans in the arena bleachers to the players on the dressing room bench has to be in the game.

Hockey is a great sport with a lot of benefits for those who play; we just need to work together to bench tobacco.

If you want more information on tobacco-free sports, visit Play, Live, Be Tobacco-Free.

If you or some you know wants to quit using tobacco, they can receive free counselling, information, and support as well as free nicotine replacement products through provincial programs.

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a licensing officer with Northern Health and has his BA in Health Science. Previously, he worked as a Recreation Therapist with Mental Health and Addictions Services in Terrace as well as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator. Originally from Revelstoke, Reg enjoys the outdoor activities that Terrace offers, like mountain biking and fishing. Reg also likes playing hockey, working out, and creative writing. He is married and has two sons and believes strongly in a work/life balance as family time is important to him.