Outside editorial: Take tobacco out of the game

Posted: Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The following editorial first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

It’s good to see the boys of summer back on the baseball field. It will be even better if more players take the field without a pinch of chewing tobacco tucked under their lower lips.

Sure, that puffed-out jaw of Lenny “Nails” Dykstra will live in the memory of every Philadelphia Phillies’ fan who ever watched him tear up the base paths. And ballplayers’ chewing habit goes back more than a century, to a time when baseball diamonds were dustier places — and a bit of “dip” helped keep the mouth moist.

But given what’s known today about the dangers of oral cancer from smokeless tobacco use, it’s difficult to grasp how the habit has survived for this long in the big leagues.

Tobacco use was banned in the minor leagues in 1993, as it is in college and in most other amateur leagues. Major League Baseball should be the industry leader — not the last holdout.

Fortunately, Commissioner Bud Selig and the players’ association chief, Michael Weiner, are coming under increasing public pressure to rid MLB of tobacco use. In November, 10 anti-tobacco organizations, including the American Cancer Society and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, sent Selig and Weiner an open letter urging a ban.

Last week, U.S. Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., joined the campaign, citing the recent testimonial of Washington Nationals’ star right-hand pitcher Stephen Strasburg on the dangers of chewing tobacco.

Strasburg says he’s trying to quit, having seen his tobacco-chewing college coach and mentor undergo harrowing treatments for oral cancer. (Dykstra, too, campaigned against chewing tobacco after he left the game.)

The senators rightly focused on how young players emulate the pros, writing that “the use of smokeless tobacco by baseball players undermines the positive image of the sport and sends a dangerous message to young fans, who ... they look up to as role models.”

In Pennsylvania, the only state not to tax smokeless tobacco, the drive to rid the major leagues of tobacco should stand as a reminder that Harrisburg lawmakers are missing a chance to help save lives — and raise revenue at the same time. A tax on smokeless tobacco products would be another reason for users to quit.

In the major leagues, there’s no question that Selig should ban all tobacco use.



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