Major League Baseball Considers Banning Smokeless Tobacco

July 17, 2014
Adam Hochron

For as long as baseball has been America's pastime Major League Baseball (MLB) players have been taking the field with mouthfuls of chewing tobacco and spewing the resulting liquid all over the place, from the dugouts to the outfield.

For as long as baseball has been America’s pastime, Major League Baseball (MLB) players have been taking the field with mouthfuls of chewing tobacco and spewing the resulting liquid all over the place, from the dugouts to the outfield.

Following the death of hitting great Tony Gwynn, who had battled salivary gland cancer believed to be caused by years of using the sticky substance also known as smokeless tobacco, the sport has been under pressure to ban it from the fields.

In a story posted on MLB’s website, former player and current MLB Player’s Association President Tony Clark said he believed that the league should educate players about the dangers of tobacco use, rather than simply ban outright a product many players have become accustomed to using.

“We believe the numbers suggest that usage [of smokeless tobacco] has declined significantly,” Clark says in the story. “It’s declined in the Minor Leagues and the Major Leagues. Our hope is that we can continue to educate guys on the damage that dipping can do and they will continue to decide not to dip and chew.”

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), smokeless tobacco is defined as a product that requires people to “chew or suck (dip) the tobacco in their mouth and spit out the tobacco juices that build up.” Nicotine, the report continues, is then absorbed through the lining of the user’s mouth.

The NCI report also said that “at least 28 chemicals in smokeless tobacco have been found to cause cancer.” That includes nitrosamines that are used in the curing and aging of tobacco products as well as polonium-210, which is found in tobacco fertilizer and polynuclear hydrocarbons.

Use of smokeless tobacco has been linked to causing oral cancer, esophageal cancer, and pancreatic cancer, as well as heart disease, gum disease, and oral lesions.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) reported that in 2012 3.5% of people age 12 and over‑‑nearly 9 million people in all‑‑were using smokeless tobacco. Smokeless tobacco use was higher in younger age groups, with 5.5% of people aged 18 to 25 saying they were current users.

Many players who have used smokeless tobacco have reported quitting in light of Gwynn’s death. In MLB dugouts, it is now more common to see players chewing gum or sunflower seeds than it is to see them using tobacco.

Several large health advocacy organizations and groups, including the ACS, the American Heart Association (AHA), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, recently sent a letter to MLB urging them to continue that trend.

“Use of smokeless tobacco endangers the health of Major League ballplayers," the letter states. "It also sets a terrible example for the millions of young people who watch baseball at the ballpark or on TV and often see players and managers using tobacco.”

The letter, which calls on MLB and the MLB Players Association to agree to “a complete prohibition on tobacco use at ballparks and on camera,” was sent to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, as well as Clark.

Some progress has been made toward eliminating the use of smokeless tobacco in the MLB. In 2011, it was agreed that players could not carry tobacco tins in their uniforms or use the product on television. Citing Gwynn’s death as a call to action, the letter said that the measures enacted to date “are not sufficient to eliminate tobacco use in public settings or to prevent more players from becoming addicted to these deadly products.”

The letter also cited a study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing an increase in smokeless tobacco among young players. According to the report, in 2013, around 14.7% of high school boys and 8.8% of all high school students reported using smokeless products.