Does baseball promote tobacco use?

Two senators want to ban chew from Major League Baseball.

By Kim Peterson Feb 15, 2011 3:16PM
Credit: (© Rob Carr/AP)
Caption: Philadelphia Phillies Marcus Giles taking a dip of smokeless tobacco before batting practice at a spring training baseball gameChewing tobacco and Major League Baseball fit together like hand in glove. It's a tradition that, for better or worse, dates back more than a century.

Two U.S. senators are ready to end that relationship, calling for a ban on chew and other tobacco products in professional baseball. "MLB is undoubtedly complicit in attracting many young people to try smokeless tobacco after seeing their baseball heroes chew tobacco," the Democratic senators, Dick Durbin and Frank Lautenberg, wrote in a letter to commissioner Bud Selig.

The senators raise some interesting questions. Do baseball players implicitly encourage kids to use chewing tobacco? If so, how much does baseball help stocks like Altria Group (MO) and Reynolds American (RAI)? Both shares, by the way, dropped slightly in trading after the senators released their letter.

Post continues after video:
A third of Major League Baseball players say they use smokeless tobacco, ABC News reports. There are several reasons why. On a dusty ballfield, tobacco spurs saliva production and lubricates the mouth, Slate reports. Players have, on occasion, moistened their leather gloves with tobacco-laced spit. Smokeless-tobacco makers handed out free tins of dip in clubhouses for years.

One 1999 study found that 31% of MLB rookies used smokeless tobacco, compared with 6.5% of American men, Slate reports.

OK, so we know that baseball players like tobacco. We've seen the tobacco bulge in the mouths of Lenny Dykstra and others. But can we directly attribute that usage to smokeless tobacco sales?

That's something the MLB doesn't want to talk about. Same with tobacco companies. The senators think so, writing to Selig that "the use of smokeless tobacco by baseball players undermines the positive image of the sport and sends a dangerous message to young fans, who may be influenced by the players they look up to as role models."

Harvard researchers watched the 2004 World Series game between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals, and measured more than nine minutes of obvious smokeless tobacco use by the players and Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

"That’s essentially 18 free prime-time commercials for manufacturers such as Skoal and Copenhagen," The New York Daily News writes.

The senators pushing for a ban on smokeless tobacco want the subject included in the next collective bargaining agreement in the major leagues. It doesn't sound like Bud Selig has answered the senators' call yet.

This will undoubtedly stir up complaints from ballplayers and tobacco makers alike. Smokeless tobacco has been a lifesaver for tobacco companies lately in a saturated U.S. cigarette market. An increase in the smokeless tobacco segment has helped supplement growth for Altria, Forbes reports. Similarly, the Conwood smokeless tobacco division has helped sales at Reynolds American, the holding company for R.J. Reynolds.

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