In a reversal, Twins will let Target Field fans use smokeless tobacco.
Target Field may be smoke-free inside and out, but for the first time the ballpark is permitting fans to chew tobacco in public -- as long as it's done discreetly and doesn't prompt complaints.
Not even the players can do that.
The Twins, which prohibit smoking in the ballpark and last week shut down the only smoking area outside the gates, banned chewing tobacco in the ballpark's first two seasons. But the team is lifting that ban because "we found that not to be an issue," team spokesman Kevin Smith said.
"People seemed to not mind chewing tobacco as much as secondhand smoke," he said.
Electronic cigarettes will continue to be prohibited because they resemble regular cigarettes and emit a detectable vapor, Smith said.
Legislation creating Target Field made it a smoke-free zone. But in a ballpark where naming rights are held by Target -- a corporation that stopped selling tobacco products 16 years ago -- permitting chewing has raised questions among anti-tobacco advocates, who say that the number of teenage boys who use smokeless tobacco is climbing.
"We appreciate what the Twins have done to have a smoke-free stadium, but smokeless tobacco is harmful and it's a very bad substance to be using at a family-friendly event attended by millions of kids each year," said Marie Cocco, a spokeswoman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington, D.C.
In a labor agreement signed with team owners in November, players and coaches agreed starting this season to avoid using smokeless tobacco on TV and during team appearances, and not to carry tobacco products onto the field any time fans are in the ballpark. That means that players can't even wedge a tobacco tin into a uniform pocket.
Smith said players can't smoke at Target Field, but they can chew tobacco as long as they're out of sight of fans.
Target Field's new chewing policy leaves just one major-league ballpark, Safeco Field in Seattle, as tobacco-free. However, Safeco permits smoking in four areas near the gates. All ballparks restrict smoking, but 20 allow it in designated areas inside or near the facility.
Among those who joined the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in seeking the smokeless prohibition from baseball were more than 200 national health organizations, youth groups, public health officials and baseball figures. They included the Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota, ClearWay Minnesota, cancer researchers Stephen Hecht of the University of Minnesota and Dr. Jon Ebbert of the Mayo Clinic and Minneapolis Health Commissioner Gretchen Musicant.
Robert Moffitt of the Minnesota chapter of the American Lung Association said the Twins' removal of the last smoking area at the ballpark sent "a positive message" for which they intend to give the team a special award. Enforcing a total tobacco ban would be difficult, he said. "I'm sure that was one of the concerns they had," he said.
Smith said the Twins did try to enforce a full tobacco ban in the first two seasons at Target Field. But it was tough to spot fans who were chewing, he said, and other fans didn't seem to mind anyway. It was enforced perhaps two or three times each season, when chewers spit on the stands rather than in a container.
Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report. Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455