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Florida Lawmaker Offers Measure to Make Baseball Tobacco-Free

Leading Health Experts, Youth Praise Proposal That Will Protect Kids and Players
October 19, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – St. Pete City Council Vice Chair Darden Rice (District 4) today announced plans to introduce an ordinance to eliminate the use of smokeless tobacco products at all sports venues in St. Petersburg (including The Trop), both to set the right example for America’s youth and for the health of the players. The legislation will send a simple and powerful message to kids with the 2016 postseason in full swing: baseball and tobacco don’t mix.

Public health advocates and local ball-playing youth joined Vice Chair Rice in announcing the latest leg of the “Knock Tobacco Out of the Park” campaign to promote tobacco-free baseball and help reduce smokeless tobacco use among kids. St. Petersburg is the first southern city to consider such legislation.

Rice’s proposal – which she will introduce at a Council Meeting tomorrow (October 20) as a “New Business Item” – will apply to all sports facilities at all levels within city limits and will cover the players, fans and anyone in the entire venue during a baseball game or related activity. The proposal will include Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. Rice is hopeful the law will be enacted and in effect before the 2017 season.

Public health experts – including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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.

Recent headlines 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.

“It’s long past time to do the right thing and take tobacco out of baseball game completely for the good of the sport and the health of our kids and players alike,” said Vice Chair Rice. “When major league players are on the job, they have a responsibility to set the right example for kids. Players who use smokeless tobacco are giving the tobacco industry free marketing, which isn’t something anyone wants or needs. Let’s make our city a positive example for all of Major League Baseball.”

The 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.

“Our national pastime should be about promoting a healthy and active lifestyle, not a deadly and addictive product,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “St. Pete is sending the right message today that baseball players are role models for our nation’s youth and that chewing tobacco is dangerous and should not be an accepted part of sports culture. We have the momentum on our side to finally take tobacco out of baseball for kids, the players and the future. We applaud Vice Chair Rice for her leadership on this important issue.”

Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco have enacted laws prohibiting tobacco use at sports venues, including their professional baseball stadiums. A statewide law in California will take effect before the 2017 season. Once all of these laws are implemented, at least one-third of Major League stadiums will be tobacco-free. Legislation is currently close to enactment in Washington, D.C. and under consideration in Toronto and the state of Minnesota.

Smokeless tobacco manufacturers spent more than $500 million on marketing in 2013 (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.

For years, leading health organizations have called for an end to smokeless tobacco in baseball. A number of groups mounted a major campaign in 2010-2011 that made some significant strides – including securing a prohibition on players carrying tobacco tins in their uniforms and using smokeless tobacco during TV interviews. But these restrictions did not eliminate smokeless tobacco use at ballparks.

More information on the Knock Tobacco Out of the Park campaign can be found at tobaccofreebaseball.org. The website includes tools that allow fans and other members of the public to send messages to MLB and the Players Association telling them to get tobacco out of baseball. Baseball fans in Tampa-St. Pete will be able to contact their local officials and urge them to support the measure to make baseball tobacco-free.