Role models should reject gross habit with harmful health risks.
Texas Rangers' Mike Napoli opens a can of chewing tobacco prior to a baseball game last month. Convincing baseball players to give up a nearly two-century habit of chewing tobacco on the field or dugout is likely to prove a sticky subject.
Besides the World Series duel between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers, another significant battle is occurring in Major League Baseball -- over the use of smokeless tobacco by players.
Commissioner Bud Selig wants to stomp the chomp. He's supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society, the American Medical Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and others.
Banning smokeless tobacco from pro baseball makes good sense for health reasons. Players are role models, and tobacco addiction is a nasty and sometimes deadly habit.
Studies show that smokeless tobacco is every bit as hard or harder to give up as cigarettes. Health risks include addiction, tooth and gum disease, and various cancers (oral, esophageal, pancreatic) that can be painful, disfiguring and deadly.
Some players who dip or chew argue that a ban would infringe on individual rights. That viewpoint ignores the impact that player behavior has on young people. It also ignores the change in attitude about tobacco in American society.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that a startling 15 percent of high school boys use smokeless tobacco. Those students are more likely to be adult cigarette smokers.
With the World Series as a backdrop, several U.S. senators appealed to the players' union by letter to get behind the cause.
"Unfortunately, as these young fans root for their favorite team and players, they also will watch their on-field heroes use smokeless tobacco products," the senators wrote.
Think the tobacco isn't noticed by fans? Last month, Milwaukee Brewer Nyjer Morgan, a brash and hot-tempered center fielder, tossed his chaw at an opponent, igniting a bench-clearing tussle.
Swaying minds in baseball on this issue is hard, because the marriage between the sport and tobacco is a long one. USA Today reports that Bull Durham tobacco, first produced in 1860, played a role in the term "bullpen."
"Players chewed tobacco to generate saliva on dusty infields," the newspaper reported. "When gloves came into vogue, they'd spit into the mitts to keep the leather soft. Saliva, generated by chewing tobacco, was the lubricant of choice for the sharp breaking pitch known as the spitball, banned in 1920."
We know too much now about the ills of tobacco to let the chomping continue. Several former players who were struck by disease because of chewing are bravely supporting the call for a ban.
While a ban won't stop on-field melees, it's a terrific idea that the players' union should support. After all, baseball should be a game remembered for hitters rather than spitters.
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