February 15, 2011 - For two decades, there has been a fight to educate players on the danger and eradicate smokeless tobacco from baseball, both for the health of players and for the health of children who watch and idolize them. Several congressional hearings, including one last April, have addressed the issue. Major League Baseball (MLB) has urged players to not use it when on camera. Since 1993, all tobacco products have been banned in the minor leagues on fields, in clubhouses and during team travel. It's also banned in college and in every significant amateur association.
Tobacco has not been banned in the majors because MLB and the players' union view smokeless tobacco as a collective bargaining issue rather than a health issue. The players' association will not yield to a ban without a concession, and the league has been unwilling to cede anything to implement a ban.
Roughly 33 percent of major league players use some form of smokeless tobacco, a rate that has remained stagnant. More dispiriting, its use has risen among young males. The only significant increase of any tobacco product over the last five years, has been the use of smokeless among youths. It has increased to 25 percent, compared with 16 percent of the general population.
The next round of collective bargaining will take place this year, before the current Basic Agreement expires Dec. 11. Some momentum for a ban has gathered. During a House Energy and Commerce Committee Hearing, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) called for baseball to ban all tobacco at the park. "Millions of young fans are exposed on a daily basis to the use of smokeless tobacco by their heroes," Waxman said during the hearing.
Two US senators on Tuesday, February 15th called for a ban on the use of tobacco, including smokeless products, in professional baseball, citing the athletes' role-model appeal to young Americans. Democratic Senators Dick Durbin and Frank Lautenberg made the appeal in letters to the sport's commissioner, Bud Selig, as well as the head of the players association, Michael Weiner. "We write to ask that Major League Baseball (MLB) prohibit the use of tobacco products on the field, the dugout, and the lockers rooms at all venues," wrote the lawmakers.
Senators Commend Young Pitcher for Choosing to Set a Good Example by Quitting. In the January 31st Washington Post article (see 1st reference below), Washington Nationals pitcher Steven Strasburg announced his effort to quit using smokeless tobacco – also known as chewing tobacco or ‘dip’. Strasburg pointed to his desire to emulate professional baseball players as a reason why he began using smokeless tobacco.
"Despite its long-standing use throughout the history of the game, the union discourages the use of smokeless tobacco and has worked with the Commissioner's Office to help make players aware of the health risks associated with these products," Weiner said in a statement. "We have discussed this issue with players in anticipation of our upcoming collective bargaining negotiations."
References: Stephen Strasburg attempts to quit smokeless tobacco by Adam Kilgore, The Washington Post, 1/31/2011; Lautenberg, Durbin Ask MLB Commissioner to Ban Tobacco UseLautenberg Press Office, 202-224-32242/15/2011.
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U.S. Congress discusses elimination of tobacco use by Major Leagne Baseball players..;
New York City youth baseball organization lets players use dip..;