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Chicago Baseball Becomes Tobacco-Free Today

WASHINGTON, D.C. - On Friday afternoon, historic Wrigley Field will witness a new milestone: Chicago's first tobacco-free Major League Baseball game.

With Chicago - home to two storied teams - joining the growing list of tobacco-free baseball cities, it's time for Major League Baseball and its players to set the right example for our kids and promptly agree to prohibit smokeless tobacco use at all Major League ballparks. As more and more Major League cities become tobacco-free, the only question is when all baseball will become tobacco-free.

Our national pastime should be about promoting a healthy and active lifestyle, not a deadly and addictive product. Chicago is sending the right message that baseball players are role models for our nation's youth and that chewing tobacco is dangerous and should not be an accepted part of sports culture.

Chicago becomes the fifth Major League city to implement a law making its baseball stadiums tobacco-free, joining San Francisco, New York, Boston and Los Angeles. A statewide law in California will take effect before the 2017 season.

Once all of these laws are implemented, one-third of Major League stadiums will be tobacco-free. Similar legislation is under consideration in Washington, D.C., Toronto and the state of Minnesota. (The White Sox will play their first tobacco-free game at U.S. Cellular Field next Thursday against the Detroit Tigers.)

In March, the Chicago City Council approved an ordinance to eliminate smokeless tobacco use in professional and amateur baseball and other sporting events - including at Wrigley and U.S. Cellular. The law officially took effect on Tuesday. We applaud Alderman Edward Burke for championing this law and for his efforts to protect the health of our children. We also applaud Sen. Richard Durbin for his leadership in advocating for tobacco-free baseball.

The Knock Tobacco Out of the Park campaign, a coalition of public health and medical organizations, has advocated for tobacco-free baseball. Other key facts in support of the campaign include:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that high school athletes use smokeless tobacco at nearly twice the rate of non-athletes, and smokeless tobacco use among athletes increased more than 11 percent from 2001 to 2013, even as smoking rates dropped significantly. Among male high school athletes, smokeless tobacco use is particularly alarming at 17.4 percent in 2013.
  • Public health experts - including the CDC, U.S. Surgeon General, U.S. National Cancer Institute and World Health Organization - have all concluded that smokeless tobacco use is dangerous. Smokeless tobacco contains at least 28 known carcinogens and causes oral, pancreatic and esophageal cancer. The product also causes nicotine addiction and other serious health problems like gum disease, tooth decay and mouth lesions.
  • Smokeless tobacco manufacturers spent more than $500 million on marketing in 2013 (the most recent data available), driving home the message that teen boys cannot be real men unless they chew. The link between baseball and chewing tobacco reinforces this message.
  • Baseball stadiums are workplaces and public places. It is entirely appropriate to restrict the use of a harmful substance in such a setting. While players are on the job, they have a responsibility to set the right example for kids. These measures do not affect what players can do off the field in their personal lives, although they are encouraged to quit using tobacco for their own health.

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From ESPN Chicago in March:

[Miguel] Montero also joined others, including pitcher John Lackey and manager Joe Maddon, in expressing disappointment that the city of Chicago is telling players what they can or cannot do with a legal substance.

"We're grown men," Lackey said. "People in the stands can have a beer, but we can't do what we want? That's a little messed up."

You can have a beer, too, John. You know what people in the stands can't do? Smoke.

"I'm into personal freedoms," Maddon said. "I don't understand the point with all that. Just eradicate tobacco period if you're going to go that route. I'm not into over-legislating the human race, so for me I'll just have to listen and learn."

Let's start with the freedom to bring your own beverages into Wrigley Field . . .

"I will not advise them to run counter to whatever is going on," Maddon said. "A lot of that stuff I have a hard time with. I'm the wrong guy to talk to about that. If someone is going to make up my mind for me . . . that's where I draw the line personally.

Personally, players can do whatever they want when they're not at work. Chew away! Just like the rest of us.

A first offense will result in a fine of not less than $250, then $500 for a second violation and not less than $2,500 for each additional violation that occurs within one year of the first offense.

Given major league salaries, that's virtually no fine at all.

Maddon was adamant that his players follow the new rules but said he simply believes in the freedom to make up one's mind when it comes to a legal substance.

Vaseline is a legal substance, and you can't use that on a baseball field either.

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Also, chewing tobacco has been banned in the minor leagues since 1993 (and is also banned from the college game).

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Don't be naive, Joe: Major League Baseball has long been exploited by and complicit with the tobacco companies.

See How Major League Baseball Became Addicted To Tobacco, just for starters.

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See The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour #111 for further discussion (segment begins at 55:44).

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Comments welcome.

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