Working with Baseball to Change Tobacco's Spitting Image

Field of Work: Substance abuse prevention: chewing tobacco and snuff

Problem Synopsis: Beginning about 1970, national consumption of spit tobacco (chewing tobacco and snuff) began to increase markedly, especially among boys and young men.

Health experts attributed the increase at least in part to aggressive marketing tactics, including use of professional athletes and sporting events to promote "smokeless tobacco" products as a safe alternative to cigarettes.

Baseball was key to this strategy. Big league players, a traditional role model for American youth, received free samples of spit tobacco products and appeared in industry ads.

Synopsis of the Work: In 1994, Oral Health America, a Chicago-based organization that advocates improved dental care, launched a public education campaign to break baseball's association with spit tobacco, mainly by using ballplayers to deliver anti-spit tobacco messages to young fans.

Named the National Spit Tobacco Education Program (NSTEP), the campaign included:

  • Public service announcements (PSAs) broadcast in connection with baseball games.
  • Stadium events focused on promoting spit tobacco prevention and cessation.
  • Distribution of posters and pamphlets illustrating the physical damage that oral cancer can bring to spit tobacco users.
  • Spit tobacco-cessation counseling and oral exams for major and minor league players.
  • Employment of community coordinators to developing anti-spit tobacco coalitions in high-use regions of the country.

Joe Garagiola Sr., a former major league catcher turned sportscaster and all-around media personality, was the NSTEP national chairperson and spokesperson.

Key Results

  • Greater awareness among professional baseball players—especially minor league players—of the harm posed by the use of spit tobacco.

  • Implementation of the first comprehensive national effort to educate the American public about the dangers of spit tobacco.

  • A stronger anti-spit tobacco voice within the nation’s overall tobacco-control movement.

Afterward: In November 2011 the professional baseball team owners and the players association signed a labor agreement that included a significant, new provision to reduce the visibility of smokeless products. For the first time ever, the five-year pact prohibits big league ballplayers, managers and coaches from:

  • Using chewing tobacco during televised interviews, autograph signings and team-sponsored events.
  • Carrying any tobacco packaging in their uniforms while on the field.