High school baseball targeted in smokeless tobacco ban

The number of high school baseball players that are spitting out that ugly brown juice during games is increasing.  And it’s causing ripple effects all the way up to the Major Leagues.

Health officials in 15 cities with Major League franchises are calling for a ban on smokeless tobacco used by professional players, managers, coaches, and others on staff at major league ballparks.

These people, they reason, have a responsibility as role models for young players.

And Arizona, home of the Diamondbacks, is in the forefront of the movement.  Health officials in Phoenix were among those affixing their signatures to a letter sent to MLB officials.

Reports show that the use of smokeless tobacco at the high school level has increased by 36 percent since 2003, and that 15 percent of prep players now use the nasty stuff.

Smokeless tobacco has been linked to oral cancer, gum disease, tooth decay, and mouth lesions.  And, of equal concern among health professionals, it can lead to cigarette smoking, the nation’s number one cause of preventable death.

So the directors of health departments in a majority of cities that have Major League teams have decided to attack the problem at its root: the professional players whom the high schoolers emulate.

With the 2011 baseball season opening tomorrow, the time seemed right to call attention to the issue.

The group joined ranks to send a letter to Commissioner Bud Selig and Michael Weiner, the executive director of the players’ union, asking them to agree to prohibit tobacco use in a new contract that will take effect in 2012.  Negotiations are underway right now on a new collective bargaining agreement.

Major League Baseball wouldn’t be the first to ban the use of tobacco.  The NCAA and National Hockey League have already made the move, and minor league baseball imposed the restrictions almost 20 years ago.

Dr. David Fleming, one of the public health directors involved in the movement, points out that, “Baseball players are role models for our children, making impressions that last a lifetime.  It’s time for major leaguers to step up to the plate…and go tobacco-free.”

Even Congress is getting involved.  Last month, U.S. Senators Richard Durbin and Frank Lautenberg called for MLB and the players’ association to ban the use of tobacco products.

And Major League players are also stepping forward with personal stories of addiction.

Stephen Strasburg, the high-profile pitcher for the Washington Nationals has gone public with his struggle with an addiction to smokeless tobacco, and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn was recently diagnosed with cancer and attributed his disease to years of chewing tobacco.

To get more information about the proposed ban, and express your sentiments on the issue, go to www.tobaccofreebaseball.org.