Baseball players have been associated with chewing or smokeless tobacco from the early days of the game. It was a habit acquired from boredom, and the desire to generate a saliva flow throughout a game. While it may not cause lung cancer, as smoking does, this form of tobacco can lead to cancer of the mouth and tongue. Hall of Fame Padre Tony Gwynn died of salivary gland cancer caused by the habit. Other players have had to have facial reconstruction as their lower lip disintegrated.
California Assemblyman Tony Thurmond has proposed a bill that would ban any form of tobacco from ballparks in the state. Rolls of chewing tobacco used to be readily available in any clubhouse. Major League Baseball banned that practice. Cigarette smoking is already banned at all MLB ballparks. Chewing tobacco is banned at minor league ballparks. This bill would extend the ban to the five California MLB ballparks. Is this bill needed, practical and useful? Athletes are role models and younger people emulate their behavior. If a popular baseball player chews tobacco it can be seen as "cool" and desirable.
Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, has said "what's striking is that in the last 15 years we've seen more than a 30 percent decline in cigarette smoking among teenage boys, but a 33 percent increase in smokeless tobacco." Smokeless tobacco has the same nicotine component which addicts smokers. I am embarrassed to say that years ago I emulated some of my clients and starting using smokeless tobacco. It is totally addictive and extremely hard to quit.
Actually regulating the use by ballplayers or patrons is a daunting task. Unless there is a big bulge obvious in a players cheek, tobacco can be parked in the mouth, which is not easy to detect. Testing players for their saliva is problematic. Fining players at the same rate as the public will not be a deterrent. Major League Baseball endorses this proposal because it finds the aesthetics detract from the game, as well as the health issues.
How much should the state be involved in regulating behavior that citizens may choose to do? There are no secondhand smoke implications to chewing. This same issue has played out in New York with the banning of certain sized sodas considered bad for health. I have always believed that athlete's trigger imitative behavior, especially in rebellious adolescents. Asking for athletes and patrons to go without chewing tobacco for the three hours of a ballgame, may be a small price to pay to save young people from the ravages of long term use.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.