Baseball contract limits tobacco use

FREDERIC J. FROMMER Associated Press Published:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Baseball's new labor deal will limit the use of smokeless tobacco by players, but not ban it during games, as some public health groups had sought.

Players have agreed not to carry tobacco packages and tins in their back pockets when fans are permitted in the ballpark, or use tobacco during pregame or postgame interviews, and at team functions.

But the restrictions fall short of the call by some advocates, including members of Congress, who argued that a ban on chewing tobacco and dip during games was needed to protect impressionable kids watching on TV.

"Our members understand that this is a dangerous product, there are serious risks associated with using it," union head Michael Weiner told The Associated Press. "Our players felt strongly that those were appropriate measures to take but that banning its use on the field was not appropriate under the circumstances."

The players union also has agreed to join forces with the Partnership at DrugFree.org and the baseball commissioner's office to create a nationwide public service announcement campaign. Several players have agreed to do public outreach, including Curtis Granderson, Jeremy Guthrie and C.J. Wilson. In addition, the union will start a Tobacco Cessation Center for its players, and players will be offered training on how to give up the habit.

Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, one of the groups that led the anti-tobacco push, said that while he would have preferred a ban at games and on camera, the restrictions represent real progress.

"The new Major League Baseball contract takes an historic first step toward getting smokeless tobacco out of the ballgame, and makes significant progress toward protecting the health of big-league players and millions of young fans who look up to them," he said in a statement.

"Baseball players have been using tobacco since the earliest days of the game. This forward step marks the first time ever that the league and the players have recognized that it is time to break this unhealthy connection."

Four U.S. senators who had urged the union to adopt a ban on the eve of this year's World Series had a similar take.

"Major League Baseball made the right decision today in choosing to implement stricter rules for smokeless tobacco on the field and off the field," said Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, and fellow Democrats Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Senate Health Committee Chairman Tom Harkin of Iowa. "This is a welcome acknowledgement by players and owners that tobacco use of any kind is no longer a tradition that should be upheld."

They said they were hopeful the restrictions eventually would lead to a complete ban on smokeless tobacco.

But two congressmen who had pressed for a ban said they were disappointed with the tobacco agreement.

"The players association made a mistake in opposing Commissioner Selig's efforts to ban smokeless tobacco use during games," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., "Baseball players are idols to millions of youth, and they should strive to be healthy role models. The failure to ban smokeless tobacco is bad for the health of the players and worse for the kids who emulate them."

Rep. Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, said: "The fact is that smokeless tobacco use by baseball players will still appear on television screens across the United States."

Pat Courtney, a spokesman for Major League Baseball, said that while the deal doesn't ban tobacco completely, "it is a significant step forward."

Weiner said that players aren't running from the idea that kids see them as role models.

"Prominent players have agreed to go out there and talk," he said. "But maybe the message that's being sent by the combination of things here is a realistic one: When kids grow up they're going to have choices to make, just like players have choices."

A coalition including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society and the American Medical Association had been pushing for a tobacco ban since last year. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig endorsed it at the start of the 2011 season.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says smokeless tobacco can cause cancer, oral health problems and nicotine addiction, and stresses it is not a safe alternative to smoking. Despite the risks, the CDC's most recent survey found that in 2009, 15 percent of high school boys used smokeless tobacco -- a more than one-third increase over 2003.

In the minor leagues, where players are not unionized, smokeless tobacco has been banned since 1993.

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