Major League Baseball recently kicked off the 2016 season with the familiar sights and sounds of players in uniform, bats hitting balls, pitches plunking into catchers’ mitts, and fans cheering for their home team. But one thing is missing in seven of the 30 MLB ball parks: Smokeless tobacco.
Baseball players have used smokeless tobacco for more than a century. According to Matthew Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an estimated 25-30% of MLB players currently use smokeless tobacco. But the federal Centers for Disease Control have long maintained that smokeless tobacco can cause cancer, oral health problems and nicotine addiction. MLB is a believer. In the minor leagues, where players are not unionized, MLB has banned the use of smokeless tobacco since 1993 and signs are posted in clubhouses warning players of the dangers of using such products.
In the past year, a number of cities have passed legislation to outlaw smokeless tobacco in public stadiums. New York is the latest city to join a list that includes Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The New York ban will affect Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, home of the Mets. California also enacted a ban which, when it takes effect in 2017, will add three more MLB teams to the smokeless tobacco list. Toronto and Washington, D.C. are also considering legislation to ban smokeless tobacco at their ballparks. If they are successful, forty percent of MLB parks could be tobacco free by this time next year.
Unlike the other bans, the ordinance passed by New York applies to all sports facilities within the City, not just ballparks, and prohibits the use of smokeless tobacco by fans and participants. But because a higher percentage of baseball players than participants in any other sport chew or dip, ballplayers are most affected.
Player reaction to the bans has been mixed, with some supporting it and others decreeing the loss of freedom of choice, especially for a product that is legal virtually everywhere else. However, the same can be said of cigarettes which are legally sold in this country but most jurisdictions ban smoking in public places.
MLB has long supported a ban on smokeless tobacco and has tried, unsuccessfully, to include one in prior Collective Bargaining Agreements. But the players’ union has staunchly resisted the effort. The MLBPA did agree to limited restrictions in the current CBA including carrying tobacco cans and pouches onto the field when fans are in the ballpark and using the product during television interviews and at team functions. The recent bans should give MLB additional leverage in this year’s negotiations on a new CBA which will take effect in 2017.
Joe Garagiola, former MLB catcher, announcer and user of smokeless tobacco who passed away last month at the age of 90, tirelessly campaigned against the use of the product. Well known players such as Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn, who died in 2014 at the age of 54 of salivary gland cancer, and former pitcher Curt Schilling who survived a bout with oral cancer, attributed their medical conditions to the long term use of smokeless tobacco.
Penalties for violating the tobacco bans are limited to fines ranging from $100 to $250, a mere pittance to ballplayers making the MLB minimum salary of $507,500 or the average salary which exceeds $4 million. Furthermore, it’s unclear how cities intend to enforce the law. Will fans be cited during the game? And if a player chooses to contest a citation, how will law enforcement prove their case? A wad of gum can easily be mistaken for a wad of chewing tobacco. Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona wraps his tobacco in gum in order to disguise his habit.
Dan Halem, MLB’s Chief Legal Officer, said players could find themselves subject to discipline from the commissioner if they violate the smokeless tobacco ban, similar to the risk of discipline if they violate any law. But good luck with that one. The players’ union would rightly contest any such discipline, maintaining that the subject is a matter for collective bargaining.
As the 2016 MLB season begins, the game may seem similar to what it was last year. But many players looking for a relaxant during the game will need to find something other than chewing or dipping.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor and the Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland. Jordan maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2016 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed