By: Matthew Cox—
Muncie, IN—Warm days at the beach, golf course or swimming pool are near-universal visions of summer, and the game of baseball is synonymous with summer for many youth players, their parents and adult fans. Wednesday, May 31 is also World No Tobacco Day, and the image of baseball players using chewing tobacco and other products is infamously timeless as the game itself.
Baseball’s attempt at positively influencing youth is certainly behind its decades-old ban on smokeless tobacco products in the minor leagues and collegiate baseball followed suit in the early 1990s. There remains one place where anti-tobacco advocates would like to “take snuff out of the ballgame,” the Major Leagues.
Efforts to ban smokeless tobacco at the highest professional level, Major League Baseball (MLB), have gained traction since the 2014 death of one of its greatest players. Tony Gwynn was a Hall of Fame outfielder for the San Diego Padres who retired with 3,141 career hits and a lifetime batting average of .338. He is best remembered for his professional demeanor and work ethic, a career of excellence on often unsuccessful teams, and tragically, an untimely death at 54 from cancer of his salivary gland.
Gwynn had lymph nodes and tumors from his parotid gland removed in 2010 following his playing career. The surgery left his face partially paralyzed and unable to smile. He attributed his cancer to a habit of “dipping” in smokeless tobacco, or “snuff,” at the beginning of his professional career in the late 1970s. His family has since brought suit against a number of organizations, most prominently the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company.
The tobacco industry has faced public criticism for its practices of knowingly marketing an addictive, health adverse product to consumers, including practices aimed at recruiting new, youthful consumers through sports and entertainment advertising and promotional novelty items. Advocacy groups have also criticized tobacco companies’ marketing of flavored, mentholated products which attract young users and appeal to African-Americans like Tony Gwynn.
While efforts at an outright ban of smokeless tobacco at the major league level have been unsuccessful, progress has been made through other means. The 2016 Major League Baseball Players Collective Bargaining Agreement included a ban of smokeless tobacco for all new major leaguers going forward. However, these mostly young players will continue to have access to the products through their grandfathered teammates. More than a dozen municipalities have banned the use of smokeless tobacco in their ballparks and other municipally-owned sports facilities. These bans are designed to be all-inclusive and include players and team personnel as well as spectators. While enforcement is difficult, the measures are supported by the professional sports leagues which use the arenas.
The Tobacco Free Delaware County Coalition, the Healthy Community Alliance of Delaware and Blackford Counties and other health advocacy groups endorse the observation of World No Tobacco Day this Wednesday. For assistance in quitting, or for tobacco-cessation resources in East Central Indiana, please call 1-800-QUITNOW today.
Matthew Cox is the Community Outreach Associate for the IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital Foundation. He serves on the Tobacco Free Delaware County Coalition.