Young Baseball Fan Makes a Great Play Against Smokeless Tobacco

August 01, 2011


Eleven-year-old Louie Lafakis has seen the unhealthy relationship between baseball and smokeless tobacco up close and personal. His father, John, started using it in high school, when his baseball teammates told him he wouldn't make the varsity squad if he didn't dip. 

What started as a youthful effort to fit in turned into a harmful addiction for John Lafakis, who is now 44 and still has been unable to quit. 

It inspired his son to try to help break the link between tobacco and baseball:  Louie's slogan 'Make a great play ... Throw tobacco away!'  just won a national contest — and earned him a trip to the upcoming Little League World Series,  where he'll throw out the first pitch.

The contest is sponsored by Oral Health America, one of the founding members of a growing coalition of health and medical groups, religious leaders, baseball insiders and youth advocates that is working to prohibit the use of smokeless tobacco at Major League Baseball games.  The campaign to Knock Tobacco Out of the Park wants big league ballplayers to stop using smokeless tobacco at games and on camera, creating the image that chewing and spitting tobacco is cool and athletic, when in fact it is addictive and deadly.

Louie's effort comes just in time. The Federal Trade Commission just reported that while tobacco industry spending on cigarette marketing is down, the money it spends to push smokeless products is skyrocketing.  Between 2005 and 2008, marketing expenditures for smokeless products more than doubled, to a record $547.9 million. Overall, tobacco companies spent $10.5 billion in 2008 — nearly $29 million each day — to market cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

And it's having an effect: The use of smokeless tobacco by high school boys climbed 36 percent from 2003 to 2009, and about 15 percent of high school boys now use smokeless tobacco.

It's time to reshuffle this losing lineup. Tell the Major League Baseball players union to help by getting tobacco out of the big leagues.