By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
America’s pastime is a little safer for players and for fans tuning in or watching from the stands this year as Major League Baseball places new limits on smokeless tobacco.
Under the contract between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) signed late last year, players, coaches and managers are no longer allowed to carry a tobacco tin or package in their uniforms or on their bodies during games or any time that fans are in the ballpark. Nor can they put a pinch between their cheek and gum during televised interviews, autograph sessions or other team-sponsored appearances.
Faith leaders and healthcare organizations are being credited with the new rules as their campaign to Knock Tobacco Out of the Park (KTOOP) drew attention to the issue last year. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig joined the groups supporting a total ban on the products, as did a number of members of the U.S. Congress.
“Although this isn’t a complete ban as we had asked for, it is certainly a major step in the right direction. Our hope is that it will help many athletes who still use this dangerous substance to kick the habit and will reduce the number of young people who take it up, since many still do so to emulate their favorite athletes,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
At 14.1 percent for male high school students, smokeless tobacco use in North Carolina is higher than the national average, according to the 2009 Youth Tobacco Survey. Also in 2009, the Centers for Disease Control reported that spit tobacco use among high school boys was up 36 percent from 2003.
Smokeless tobacco includes more than 2,500 chemical compounds, 29 of which are known carcinogens. Studies also suggest that it is a gateway drug since frequent users are more likely to wind up smoking cigarettes and using marijuana, alcohol, inhalants or cocaine.
Minor League Baseball banned smokeless tobacco from its parks in 1993. But reports show about a third of Major League players are still users. Supporters of the new MLB rules now are focused on making sure they are enforced.
“We are urging team managers and personnel, as well as league officials, to strictly enforce them,” wrote Brian Hutchinson, director of the Grassroots Operations Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in a recent letter to members of Faith United Against Tobacco. “We are also encouraging fans to play a role and support compliance by reporting violations through the KTOOP web site.”
“We believe the new tobacco restrictions will help change attitudes toward smokeless tobacco use by limiting the powerful imagery of big-league players using these addictive and deadly products — effectively providing a celebrity endorsement of them,” he added. “Other provisions of the new contract, including public outreach programs and education projects aimed at youth, also will enable players and other baseball figures to use their influence to stem smokeless tobacco use among young fans.”
Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, called the new rules “tremendous progress.”
To find out more or to report tobacco use that you suspect may violate the new rules, log on to http://www.tobaccofreebaseball.org/