Tobacco’s disappearing act in baseball
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Every April, America's pastime of baseball returns to ballparks across the country as communities can once again take in the sights of the stadium and cheer on their favorite team. But one thing many fans will not see this season is the use of tobacco among players.
Thanks to inexpensive ticket prices, baseball is a sport that appeals to young families, and the sport works hard to embrace these fans — particularly in the smaller minor league parks. Keeping young fans safe and healthy has been a major motivation to eliminate the use of tobacco in venues.
For years, the players' use of tobacco products — in particular smokeless tobacco — had set a terrible example for impressionable youth. Advocates for a leaguewide ban on tobacco use argued that the national pastime should be about promoting a healthy and active lifestyle for families and youth.
In the new collective bargaining agreement, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association agreed to prohibit all new players from using smokeless tobacco for this and future seasons, leading to an eventual end to its use on the field and in stadiums. In line with this, San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, Washington, Milwaukee, Tampa Bay and St. Louis all have enacted regulations prohibiting smokeless tobacco use at sporting venues, including their major league stadiums.
The ruling applies to those ballplayers who have not had playing time in the major leagues, so it is probable that it will be at least a dozen years before we see a complete absence of tobacco in baseball as there still remain players who actively use tobacco products.
As recently as 2015, a CDC study found that 11 percent of high school baseball players reported using smokeless tobacco. Every year close to a half-million youth between the ages of 12-17 initiate the use of smokeless tobacco for the first time.
The use of tobacco on the college playing fields was banned in the early 1990s by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), but a 2013 study found that 47 percent of baseball players admitted to having used smokeless tobacco. Around the same time as the NCAA, minor league baseball banned tobacco use among its players. And just like in the college ball player communities, tobacco use still is evident among minor leaguers.
The California Dental Association expressed concerns that despite professional baseball policies for intervention, the rate of smokeless tobacco use and prevalence among players has remained the same. Ideally, this year's policy and more stadiums banning its use will cause a downward trend in use.
Professionals involved in youth baseball are taking the health concerns of tobacco seriously and are using the examples of harm that have been in the media to generate conversation. An educational program for Little League players discussed Curt Schilling's tobacco-related cancer and the death of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn at age 54 due to tobacco-related cancer.
The program was presented in Warwick, Rhode Island, and targeted the high school and middle school baseball players. Providing the education before the athletes start a tobacco habit is hoped to prevent the initiation of tobacco use.
Optimists hope these programs will bring an end to tobacco use within baseball with the retirement of the current professional baseball players.
"The goal is culture change," Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told The New York Times. "By 2019, at the latest, it will be a very rare sight to see any player using smokeless tobacco. It will be essentially gone from the game by then."
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