Seattle pitches in for pro baseball ban on tobacco
This might be the last season a professional baseball player will be on the field with a wad of tobacco in his cheek. Last week, health officials from 15 cities — including Seattle — joined the call for a ban on all tobacco products during professional baseball games.
Seattle Times staff reporters
If health officials and Major League Baseball prevail, this might be the last season a professional baseball player will be on the field with a wad of tobacco in his cheek.
Health officials from 15 cities — including Seattle — signed a letter last week to Bud Selig, Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner, and Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, calling for a ban on players and coaches using tobacco products during Major League baseball games. Selig announced last week that he supported the prohibition.
To make the ban happen, the players association would have to consent to the restrictions in the collective-bargaining agreement that will go into effect in December. Negotiations are going on now.
Mariners who use tobacco have mixed feelings about making it off-limits.
"There are a lot of guys that chew," said designated hitter Jack Cust, who chews in-season. "We're all grown adults, so I don't see why we can't do what other grown adults do."
Another player, who requested that his name not be used because he doesn't want his children to know he chews, said he hopes MLB gets the ban imposed.
"I wish they would because then it would give me a reason to stop doing it," he said.
The officials who signed the March 28 letter, including Dr. David Fleming, director of Public Health — Seattle & King County, said they want to prohibit tobacco for the health of the players as well as "the millions of young people who watch baseball at the ballparks and on TV."
"Tobacco use in this country is the leading preventable cause of death," Fleming said. "Our children start using tobacco in their most vulnerable years and look up to baseball players as role models."
In a 2008 King County survey, 4.3 percent of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders reported using smokeless tobacco at least once in the previous 30 days. Usage in that age group had increased 34 percent since 2004.
Statewide, that group's usage was 5.9 percent. Among boys, the number reaches nearly 1 in 10.
Smokeless tobacco comes in the form of chewing tobacco or snuff. Chewing tobacco is coarse and placed between the cheek and gum, while snuff is a fine-grain tobacco set between the lower lip and gum.
Smokeless tobacco contains nicotine, which is addictive, and can cause oral cancer, pancreatic cancer and gum disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has been shut out of the minor leagues since 1993.
The possibility of an MLB ban has been brought up before. Last week's letter followed a letter sent by 10 major public-health groups in November. There was a congressional committee hearing on the topic in April.
"The critical issue is: Major League Baseball players should do this for their own health," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, one of the organizations that spearheaded the November letter. "But even if they're willing to take the risk, they shouldn't be jeopardizing literally millions of teenagers who idolize their actions." Ballard Little League President Patty Lott not only agrees with the ban, but she also thinks the kids who play in her league would agree. She has been living in Seattle for 30 years, and her family often watches Mariners games together.
"There's such an anti-tobacco culture [in Seattle] now, kids are really taught to despise tobacco," she said. "If it were more known that using chew is as bad as smoking, I think they'd want their heroes to stop."
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