Monday, December 5, 2011

A Major League Win for Tobacco Cessation: MLB Bans Smokeless Tobacco in Games

Over the summer, I shared with you the initiative among health commissioners from 15 major US cities – including Baltimore – to urge Major League Baseball to curb tobacco use among its players. When MLB announced the terms of the players’ new contract recently, we received extraordinarily good news: the new bargaining agreement includes historic limitations on the use of smokeless tobacco by players, managers and coaches.  

The new agreement prohibits players, managers and coaches from using smokeless tobacco during televised interviews, at team events, autograph signings and other appearances made on behalf of their teams. Any time when fans are in the ballpark, they will be prohibited from carrying tobacco products in their uniforms or on their body, and violators are subject to discipline.

Major League Baseball and the players’ union are jointly launching a nationwide public service campaign against smokeless tobacco, with youth – and in particular, young baseball players – as the target audiences. The Major League Baseball Players Association is establishing its own Tobacco Cessation Center, to be launched in the 2012 season. In addition, players will be screened for oral cancer during their annual physicals, probably at spring training.

This is extraordinary news, because the simple fact of the matter is that tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States. As cigarette smoking has declined, the tobacco industry has increased its marketing of smokeless products and is spending record sums to promote them. But smokeless tobacco use is itself very dangerous, causing serious diseases of the mouth, including oral cancer. In addition, there is reason to worry that smokeless tobacco use by young persons may serve as a gateway to cigarette smoking, this nation’s leading preventable cause of premature death and disease. The new contract means that players, coaches, and managers will be offered the resources to quit and the screenings they need.

To show they are tobacco-free, many players turn their pockets inside out. That trend was pioneered by former Baltimore Oriole Tony Batista. Come Opening Day next year, I hope to see a whole lot more inside-out pockets on display.

While these provisions do not include an outright prohibition on smokeless tobacco use during games, they represent the first steps baseball ever has taken to begin breaking the game’s addiction to tobacco.  The new agreement will make a difference in how smokeless tobacco is perceived by young people, and hopefully represents a major step toward its ultimate elimination from the game.

To show your appreciation to MLB for taking this major step toward eliminating tobacco use from America’s greatest pastime, visit Tobacco Free Baseball and sign their online thank you letter. If you are anyone you know wants to quit tobacco, we urge you to call 1-800-QUIT NOW for information on how to stop.

Take care, B’more.

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