Congress holds hearing on smokeless tobacco

April 14, 2010 3:17:43 PM PDT
An Illinois man who says smokeless tobacco ruined his life took his crusade to Capitol Hill.

Gruen Von Behrens first started using spit tobacco at the age of 13 when he wanted to be a Major League Baseball player. On Wednesday he told Congress why others shouldn't make the same mistake. The former baseball player was diagnosed with a deadly form of cancer in his mouth at 17. He's had 34 surgeries as doctors chased cancer through his mouth, jaw and neck.

"I want my viewers to be able to look at my face and hear my words and my story and understand what I've been through, so they can make an educated and thoughtful choice for themselves," said Von Behrens.

Von Behrens wants Congress to ban smokeless tobacco in Major League Baseball. The minors already forbid it.

"I chewed 'til my daughter came home from school and asked 'Are you gonna' die?'" said Joe Garagiola, former MLB player and broadcaster.

The Major League Players Association says it discourages players from using smokeless tobacco, but stops short of supporting a ban.

"We will educate players as to why they should not use it. There is a tension here, because many players do not think they should be banned from using a product which congress has so far, deemed to be legal," said David Prouty, MLB Players Association.

"Anyway you look at it, it's a deadly addictive habit and I want to see it stopped," said Garagiola.

Von Behrens doesn't have much hope for a ban. But he believes speaking about this and showing his face can have an impact on others.

"Make them understand what cancer is. I had no idea this is what cancer was. I hope they have a better choice themselves," said Von Behrens.

About one third of major league ballplayers say they use smokeless tobacco, according to a Harvard study.