Honor Tony Gwynn: Knock Tobacco Out of the Park for Good

June 19, 2014

All of us at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids were saddened this week by the death of baseball great Tony Gwynn — “a Hall of Fame player and a Hall of Fame person,” as MLB.com described him.

We are also grateful that he bravely spoke out about the link between oral cancer and chewing tobacco use, which remains all too common in Major League Baseball. Gwynn attributed his own cancer to longtime use of chewing tobacco. “Of course it caused it,” Gwynn once said. “I always dipped on my right side,” where his cancer started.

Tony Gwynn’s death has led to widespread calls for Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) to take tobacco out of baseball once and for all — both for the health of baseball players and to set the right example for America’s kids. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids strongly supports these calls.

In 2011, we and nine other public health organizations organized a campaign, Knock Tobacco Out of the Park, calling for a complete prohibition on smokeless tobacco use at Major League ballparks and on camera. The new contract reached in 2011 included some important steps forward, including prohibitions on carrying tobacco tins on uniforms at games and on using tobacco during televised interviews, as well as education and cessation programs to help players quit. But it fell short of the comprehensive ban on tobacco use at ballparks and on camera that is needed.

Tony Gwynn’s death has spurred sports commentators and editorial writers across the nation to call on MLB and the players association to take stronger action:

  • Joe Garagiola, Sr., ex-MLB player, TV host and longtime advocate against chewing tobacco in baseball: “Let’s do something … Tony Gwynn’s death is sad enough. I hope it triggers [a ban].” In a separate interview, he said, “I just wish that [the players association] would take a more serious look at it and don’t wait for good people to die, good guys like Tony Gwynn. That’s a big loss for baseball.”
  • The Sacramento Bee editorial Board: “In Gwynn’s honor, baseball ought to reconsider the subject, and it shouldn’t wait until the next labor negotiations in 2016. In the meantime, players ought to think about the example they’re setting as well as their own health as they try to break the addiction.”
  • The Chicago Sun-Times editorial Board: “The tobacco tin may be carefully stowed away, but when Major League Baseball players head out to the field there’s no mistaking a cheek bulging with chaw. In honor of Tony Gwynn, it’s time to end the charade. MLB players can honor Gwynn … by agreeing to ban all smokeless tobacco products on the field.”
  • Deron Snyder, The Washington Times: “Now that he’s dead from oral cancer at 54, I wish baseball had banned the practice [of dipping tobacco] during his 20-year Hall of Fame career. ... Here’s hoping the players’ union supports a ban in the next labor agreement, to assist the loved ones of current and future ballplayers.”
  • Connor O’Gara, sports writer with The Kearney Hub in Nebraska: “Major League Baseball has slept far too long on the growing epidemic of chewing tobacco in its game. The argument that ‘it’s just part of the culture,’ is the problem and the excuse. Gwynn’s death needs to show the players union that a ban on chewing tobacco has to happen and it has to happen now.”
  • The Boston Globe editorial Board: “The early death of Tony Gwynn, the former San Diego Padres star, ought to be a wake-up call for Major League Baseball. … Some of the stars who played alongside Gwynn are still in the big leagues; perhaps his death will finally convince them, and the sport, that’s it’s time to quit.”
  • Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com: “Gwynn was a wonderful man. The best way to honor him is to eliminate the very thing that killed him. Let’s get rid of chewing tobacco so that no other player suffers and dies as Tony did.”

Image Source: Wiki Commons.