By Victoria Easter, Correspondent
Christian Action League
Play Ball! But strike the chewing tobacco. That’s the call from religious leaders across the country who are urging the Major League Baseball Players Association to ban smokeless tobacco from the game.
“What players do on their own time is their business, but what they do when they are in uniform and on camera is all of ours, especially considering what’s at stake,” said a May 31 letter from Faith United Against Tobacco to the MLBPA.
The coalition of more than two dozen faith groups, including the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church, echoes the plea from countless health and medical associations, youth organizations and a growing number of baseball insiders who want America’s favorite pastime to stop promoting oral cancer, gum disease, tooth decay, nicotine addiction and other problems that smokeless tobacco can cause.
“The Christian Action League strongly supports this ongoing effort, led by Faith United Against Tobacco and Tobacco Free Kids,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “More than 14 percent of male high school students in North Carolina use smokeless tobacco. I think we can safely say that number would be lower if they hadn’t grown up watching their baseball heroes set this sad example.”
In fact, smokeless tobacco use among high school boys across the nation climbed 36 percent between 2003 and 2009 with the five largest tobacco manufacturers pouring more than $350 million per year into advertising and promotions, according to Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Studies show that not only is smokeless tobacco harmful in itself, but users are more likely to engage in other dangerous behavior as well.
According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, a 1998 study showed that high school students who use spit tobacco 20 to 30 days per month are nearly four times more likely to currently use marijuana than nonusers, almost three times more likely to ever use cocaine, and nearly three times more likely to use inhalants to get high. In addition, heavy users of smokeless or spit tobacco are almost 16 times more likely than nonusers to currently consume alcohol.
“The players must recognize that they are harming their own health and jeopardizing our children’s futures by continuing to make it look as though smokeless tobacco is integral to the Major League mystique,” Richard Land, head of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told the media.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig pitched the idea of banning tobacco on opening day. The harmful and addictive substance hasn’t been a part of the minor leagues since 1993. Still, many baseball insiders say Major League users won’t quit unless they are forced to stop using it.
“We need to break this cycle to protect players and provide positive role models for kids,” Ken Kendrick, managing general partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks wrote in a recent issue of USA Today. “We must finally make the link between baseball and tobacco nothing more than an historic curiosity.”
“I suspect you will be hearing more in the future about the role of the Christian Action League in this effort to divorce ‘chew’ from the Major leagues,” said Rev. Creech