World Series puts spotlight on use of smokeless tobacco
Using the World Series as their stage, Senate leaders and health officials are calling on Major League Baseball to get tough on tobacco.
Dr. Cynthia Simmons, Arlington's public health authority, and Pamela Walker, her counterpart in St. Louis, Mo., are asking their respective hometown baseball players to refrain from using smokeless tobacco throughout the Series, because kids are watching.
They, along with some U.S. senators, don't want to wait for the league and the MLB Players Association to discuss a ban on smokeless tobacco in the 2012 contract negotiations.
"When players use smokeless tobacco, they endanger not only their own health, but also the health of millions of children who follow their example," the senators wrote to union head Michael Weiner, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press.
Data recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that about 15 percent of high school boys use smokeless tobacco, a 36 percent increase since 2003.
The agency added that smokeless tobacco causes oral cancer and has been linked to cancers of the pancreas, esophagus, pharynx, larynx and stomach.
A study of baseball players who use smokeless tobacco found that 46 percent had white patches, red patches and sores in their mouths, as well as receding gums, Walker said.
"These aren't necessarily precursors to cancers, but they're in addition to stained teeth, bad breath and drooling," she said.
If those images came across TV screens to kids watching the games, then snuff and chewing tobacco use might not be such a problem, Walker said.
But the message that anti-tobacco groups are trying to convey is that the players are doing something for the tobacco industry that it can't do for itself.
And they're doing it for free.
In her letter to the Texas Rangers, Simmons wrote: "The use of tobacco by big league ballplayers at a single World Series game provides millions of dollars worth of free television advertising for an addictive and deadly product."
Companies are forbidden from advertising tobacco products on TV and are prohibited from marketing to young people.
"Younger people believe smokeless tobacco is a safer alternative to cigarettes, and when they see people they idolize do it that reinforces that belief," Walker said. "Not only that, it also makes dipping look cool."
Rangers pitcher Matt Harrison told the AP that it's going to be hard to enforce a ban on smokeless tobacco.
"They probably would have a big fight on their hands for that. ... They can hide it a little bit better, I guess -- not be doing it in the dugout and showing it where kids can watch and stuff," Harrison said. "But I think it's kind of like your own freedom. If that's what you want to do, then you do it."
Greg Bouris, a players union spokesman, said that because the issue is a subject of collective bargaining, "it would be inappropriate to talk about it at this time."
Rangers spokesman John Blake said that baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and club owners have been clear that they'd like to ban smokeless tobacco.
A Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids spokeswoman, Marie Cocco, agreed.
She said Selig responded to letters asking for a ban by promising that he would propose it during 2012 contract talks.
Weiner said in June that a "sincere effort" will be made to address the issue.
The offices of the Rangers, St. Louis Cardinals, Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Brewers received requests that players not use smokeless tobacco during the American League and National League championship series. Dan Cronin, another Tobacco-Free Kids spokesman, said that if the letters got results, he didn't see any.
"Obviously, there still are players who use tobacco and will until a ban is put in place," he said. "It's still a problem for millions of folks out there, and there are still steps we need to take to protect young people from tobacco."