Dec. 1 2016
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The new collective bargaining agreement reached last night by Major League Baseball owners and players takes a major step forward in removing tobacco from the game by prohibiting all new MLB players from using smokeless tobacco, like chew, dip and snuff. Combined with the fact that 12 Major League cities already have prohibitions on tobacco use at their baseball parks by all players and team personnel, baseball is now on a clear path to become tobacco-free in the very near future.
While we had hoped for a complete prohibition on smokeless tobacco in baseball in the new agreement, this is a major step forward and represents the first time the players and owners have a made a clear commitment to fully eliminating smokeless tobacco use in baseball. We commend the owners for recognizing that baseball should set the right example for young fans and making this issue a priority in the negotiations.
Nonetheless, the fact that the agreement allows current players to continue using smokeless tobacco means that it takes too long to solve the problem. It is critical that quicker action be taken so that millions of children are not exposed to their heroes using smokeless tobacco. Thus, it is essential that more Major League cities act now to prohibit smokeless tobacco use at sports venues so another generation of kids does not grow up watching their baseball idols use tobacco. Our national pastime should be about promoting a healthy and active lifestyle, not a deadly and addictive product.
Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., have all passed laws prohibiting tobacco use at sports venues, including their professional baseball stadiums. A statewide law in California will also take effect before the 2017 season. Once all of these laws are implemented, 12 of the 30 Major League stadiums will be tobacco-free.
Tragic events over the last two years have driven home the seriousness of the problem. In June 2014, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn died at age 54 after a long battle with salivary gland cancer, which he attributed to his longtime use of chewing tobacco. Two months later, pitching great Curt Schilling, only 47, announced his treatment for oral cancer that he said was “without a doubt, unquestionably” caused by 30 years of chewing tobacco.
Less than 18 months after San Francisco became the first city to take tobacco out of baseball, MLB saw its first tobacco-free post-season games, including a tobacco-free World Series winner in Chicago. It’s time to take tobacco out of baseball completely.
The Knock Tobacco Out of the Park campaign, a coalition of public health and medical organizations, has advocated for tobacco-free baseball. Other key facts in support of the campaign include:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that high school athletes use smokeless tobacco at nearly twice the rate of non-athletes, and smokeless tobacco use among athletes increased more than 11 percent from 2001 to 2013, even as smoking rates dropped significantly. Among male high school athletes, smokeless tobacco use is particularly alarming at 17.4 percent in 2013.
Public health experts – including the CDC, U.S. Surgeon General, U.S. National Cancer Institute and World Health Organization – have all concluded that smokeless tobacco use is dangerous. Smokeless tobacco contains at least 28 known carcinogens and causes oral, pancreatic and esophageal cancer. The product also causes nicotine addiction and other serious health problems like gum disease, tooth decay and mouth lesions.
Smokeless tobacco manufacturers spent more than $600 million on marketing in 2014 (the most recent data available), driving home the message that teen boys cannot be real men unless they chew. The link between baseball and chewing tobacco reinforces this message.
Baseball stadiums are workplaces and public places. It is entirely appropriate to restrict the use of a harmful substance in such a setting. While players are on the job, they have a responsibility to set the right example for kids. These measures do not affect what players can do off the field in their personal lives, although they are encouraged to quit using tobacco for their own health.