Idea Gallery: Major League Baseball Must Ban Smokeless Tobacco

Mar 31, 2011, 2:57 PM


Every summer, millions of American children go to baseball stadiums across the country to watch their heroes play the national pastime. And even more kids watch the games on TV.

That means millions of kids see Major League Baseball players chewing and spitting out harmful tobacco products – creating the false impression that smokeless tobacco use is cool and athletic. About one-third of current Major League Baseball players use smokeless tobacco.

To protect the health of ballplayers and the kids who look up to them, we urge Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association to ban tobacco use by players, managers, coaches and other team personnel at ballparks. The current talks on a new collective bargaining agreement give baseball a unique opportunity to make a powerful national statement about health.

Tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of death in the United States. Public health experts have concluded that smokeless tobacco is very addictive and causes cancer and other serious illnesses. And smokeless tobacco use among high school boys is spiking – it’s increased 36 percent since 2003 and an alarming 15 percent of high school boys currently use smokeless products.

In spite of these disturbing statistics, the tobacco industry still spends huge sums – more than $350 million per year at last count – to market smokeless products and often promotes them as a substitute for smoking. Tobacco companies continue to advertise these products in magazines that appeal to youth.

Baseball banned tobacco use in the minor leagues 18 years ago. The NCAA and the National Hockey League also prohibit tobacco use. Ending tobacco use in Major League Baseball would be another important step to help teach kids that tobacco use — in any form — is dangerous and can lead to serious diseases. It will also help keep our kids’ heroes healthy.

Matthew Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and Cheryl Healton, President & Chief Executive Officer of Legacy.

NewPublicHealth invites you to join and advance this conversation. Please share your comments below. We look forward to hearing from you.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.