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It’s Time to Knock Tobacco Out of the Park

February 15, 2011


With spring training for the 2011 season about to begin, two U.S. senators have formally called on Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association to prohibit the use of all tobacco products on the field, in the dugout and in locker rooms at MLB venues.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin of Illinois and Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey wrote to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and Michael Weiner, executive director of the Players Association, asking them to protect players and their young fans by finally ending the use of tobacco in baseball.

'We now know conclusively that smokeless tobacco endangers the health of baseball players who use it, but it also affects millions of young people who watch baseball,' the senators wrote. 'The use of smokeless tobacco by b aseball players undermines the positive image of the sport and sends a dangerous message to young fans, who may be influenced by the players they look up to as role models.'

Even as cigarette smoking has declined, the use of smokeless tobacco among high school boys is spiking – there's been a 36 percent increase since 2003.

National High School Boys Cigarette Smoking and Smokeless Tobacco Use

Source: CDC, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey.

The senators also wrote to Washington Nationals pitching ace Stephen Strasburg, who recently told the Washington Post of his struggle to quit smokeless tobacco, an addiction he links to his years as a young athlete trying to emulate big league players.

In November, ten major medical and public health groups wrote to Selig and Weiner, asking the league and the union to prohibit tobacco in the contract that is to take effect in 2012.

A House subcommittee held a hearing on the use of smokeless tobacco in baseball last year, and the widespread, on-camera use of chewing tobacco during the 2010 World Series drew significant public attention. Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn's recent cancer diagnosis — and his public comments attributing his disease to years of chewing tobacco — have underscored the seriousness of the problem.

Smokeless tobacco causes cancer, serious mouth diseases and increases the risk of heart attacks.

The minor leagues, the NCAA and the National Hockey League have instituted prohibitions on tobacco use. Major League Baseball is lagging on this.

So cheers to Sens. Durbin and Lautenberg for stepping up to the plate: Now baseball and its players must deliver.

Watch this space for more information on our campaign to Knock Tobacco Out of the Park.