Chewing tobacco has long been a tradition among many baseball players. But the tradition that dates back more than 100 years is now being challenged. Congress is pressing Major League Baseball (MLB) to agree to ban baseball players from chewing smokeless tobacco during games.
According to a story from the Associated Press (AP), Congress wants major league baseball players to agree to stop using chew, dip and similar products during games. But it's an issue that will have to be discussed during future negotiations before baseball's labor contract is due to expire in December 2011.
Is Congress meddling with tradition? Depends who you ask. Some people point out that major league players are already not allowed to smoke cigarettes while in uniform and in public view. Also, smokeless tobacco has been banned in the minor leagues since 1993. But some major leaguers don't want to give up the tradition. San Francisco Giants reliever Brandon Medders told the AP: "Guys do what they do. We work outside. It's been part of the game for 100 years."
Not all players feel this way. During a Congressional hearing, former major leaguer Joe Garagiola testified in favor of the ban, arguing that players are role models and that any form of tobacco sends the wrong message. Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute testified about the link between smokeless tobacco and oral cancer, pancreatic cancer and heart attacks. There is such a strong link that quitting tobacco use--smokeless or any other type--can result in significant savings in your health insurance after just one year, depending on the insurance company.
Good role models? Harvard professor Gregory Connolly testified at the hearing that one-third of major leaguers report using smokeless tobacco. He also believes it contributes to tobacco use by youthful fans.
Do kids really pick up the use of dip and chew just because their favorite baseball player uses it? As a kid, I remember buying candy cigarettes and Big League Chew Bubble Gum at the gas station. I even recall playing with fake cigarettes (you'd blow gently on the cigarette and white powder would come out, resembling smoke). Yet I'm a nonsmoker today, and one whiff of secondhand smoke sends me searching for the nearest exit.
Some players interviewed by the AP, even those who don't use tobacco, point out that family members using smokeless tobacco in the home influence youth more heavily than baseball role models, and I think they have a point. For all of my fun with candy and joke tobacco products, no one in my family used tobacco (other than grandma, who eventually quit). Mom would have killed me! Other ball players interviewed think it's a good idea to dissuade kids from trying it but that an outright ban for players is ridiculous. Still others are trying to quit and make sure their own children never start the habit.
But it remains to be seen what the major league will decide. Do you think the major league should ban smokeless tobacco use?