The image of the big-league baseball player working a wad of chewing tobacco while at bat may be going the way of the $1 ballpark beer, at least in California.
A group of health experts joined with a state lawmaker on Tuesday and proposed outlawing the use of chewing and dip tobacco by players and fans at all baseball games, professional and amateur, including organized adult and youth leagues and games held at the five Major League Baseball stadiums in California.
Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) said the bill was aimed at eliminating bad role models and health risk for minors.
"We know that young people look up to baseball players," Thurmond said standing at home plate during a news conference held at a baseball field near the Capitol.
"We have a great opportunity to protect our players and stand up for kids by getting tobacco out of the game," Thurmond added.
Thurmond was surrounded by doctors in white coats and Little League players in uniform as he announced the legislation, which bans all tobacco products, including smokeless ones.
The proposal was immediately derided by one activist for tobacco users, who questioned whether it was enforceable.
"What are they going to do, send the cops into the dugouts for raids in the ninth inning?" asked Robert Best, head of the California chapter of the Smokers Club. "This is just more vilifying of tobacco use."
Supporters of the bill expect the usual battle from the tobacco industry. David Sutton, a spokesman for the tobacco firm Altria, whose subsidiary sells Skoal smokeless tobacco, declined comment on the legislation Tuesday.
Smokeless tobacco is already banned at minor league baseball games. But, about 30% of major league baseball players still use smokeless tobacco, league officials say, and some big league players have suffered significant health effects, medical officials say.
Last year, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn died at age 54 after a long battle with salivary gland cancer that he attributed to his longtime use of chewing tobacco. Pitching ace Curt Schilling, recently said his diagnosis of oral cancer is "without a doubt, unquestionably" attributable to 30 years of chewing tobacco.
"The use of smokeless tobacco is extremely dangerous," said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which supports the legislation. He said 535,000 minors start using smokeless tobacco products every year in the United States, and he alleged the tobacco industry markets to young people by putting ads for their products in magazines like Sports Illustrated.
Ten-year-old Jonah Broscow, who plays for the Oakland Lake Monsters baseball team, said kids his age want to be like their heroes in the majors. "They think its really cool to be like the pros and have a big wad in their mouth," Broscow said, adding he thinks the new law will stop them from emulating bad behavior.
The Major League Baseball Players Assn. doesn't yet have a position on the bill but discourages the use of smokeless tobacco products by its members, according to Greg Bouris, a spokesman for the group.
He said the subject of the use of tobacco is a collective bargaining issue. "Player education continues to be an emphasis of ours," he said.