Say ‘yes’ to Cracker Jacks, ‘no’ to tobacco

Smokeless tobacco, whether it’s a plug in the cheek or a pinch under the lip, has long been associated with baseball. It’s also associated with oral cancer, pancreatic cancer, tooth decay, gum disease and mouth lesions. Nicotine is addictive, whether it’s smoked or chewed, so the step from smokeless tobacco to cigarettes is a small one.

Nicotine addiction, scientists have found, is an illness acquired in childhood. Almost no one starts using tobacco after age 25. That’s where smokeless tobacco — and baseball — come in.

An affection for baseball starts in childhood, too. As anyone who has watched a Little League game knows, kids learn the sport not just from parents and coaches, but from the Major League stars.

“Young players look up to star players and copy them — the stance, the swing, the way they adjust their caps,” former Major League player and manager Bobby Valentine wrote last week in The New York Times.

“Unfortunately, they also copy the bulge in the lip and the outline of tobacco cans in the uniform pocket.”

Imitation, and marketing to the young, is paying off for the tobacco companies. Health officials report a 36 percent increase in the use of smokeless tobacco by high school boys since 2003. Nationwide, 15 percent of high school boys use smokeless tobacco — and the percentage of dippers on school baseball teams is far higher.

It’s way past time Major League Baseball kicked the smokeless tobacco habit. Smokeless tobacco was banned during minor league games in 1993. The NCAA and the National Hockey League have prohibited it during their games.

Traditionally, Major League players have balked at suggestions the ban be extended to the big leagues, claiming whether to dip or chew is a personal decision.

Of course it is, and no one is telling them they can’t use tobacco on their own time. But just as their employers require they wear a uniform on the field of play, they ought to be able to tell them to keep their tobacco in their lockers with their street clothes.

This week, top public health officials in 15 Major League cities — including Boston — urged MLB and the players union to include a ban on smokeless tobacco during games in the 2012 contract now being negotiated. That would be a winning play for everyone.


Similar Posts:

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!