With nearly bankrupt public schools, a soaring murder rate and a federal civil rights investigation of its police department, you’d think the Chicago City Council would have better things to do than to dictate the dugout and on the field behavior of Major League baseball players.
But Aldermen Edward Burke (14th) and Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) think aldermen can walk and chew tobacco at the same time. Figuratively and legislatively, that is.
With a verbal nudge from U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Il.), the Finance Committee on Friday approved Burke and Thompson’s plan to make Chicago the nation’s fourth big league city to ban smokeless tobacco at baseball stadiums and other “professional and amateur” sporting events.
The two aldermen were so determined to rush the ordinance into place in time for the Cubs and Sox home openers next month, they introduced the ordinance directly to the Burke-chaired Finance Committee, which dutifully approved the ordinance Friday.
San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles have passed similar bans that take effect this season while New York and Toronto have legislation pending.
A Chicago ban, on deck for final approval by the full City Council next week, would be a big victory for the so-called “Knock Tobacco Out of the Park” campaign sweeping the nation.
It’s aimed at reversing persistent use of smokeless tobacco among teenagers—and a troubling rise among high school athletes–at a time when there has been a dramatic decline in the teen smoking rate.
Durbin’s chain-smoking father died of lung cancer at the age of 53 when the now-U.S. Senator was a sophomore in college. He’s been an anti-smoking crusader ever since and is responsible for the smoking ban on airplanes.
On Friday, Durbin told aldermen he was approached several months ago by the Washington D.C.-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and asked to throw his formidable support behind a Chicago ban on smokeless tobacco at sports stadiums. He found a local sponsor in Burke, the City Council’s leading anti-smoking crusader.
“A lot of kids are watching those baseball players and trying to do everything they do. Swing at the pitch the way they swing at a pitch. Field the way they do. Pitch the way they do. And chew tobacco the way they do. And sadly, we’ve seen an increase in the number of kids using smokeless tobacco. Tobacco in cigarette form has been going down. But smokeless tobacco has been going up,” Durbin said.
Durbin said he reached out to the Cubs and Sox to give them a heads-up on the ban and encountered no resistance. That’s apparently because Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco have already blazed the trail.
“They know when their teams travel to away games, this will be the rule of the road. And it should be the rule in the city of Chicago,” Durbin said.
Major League Baseball’s 2011 collective bargaining agreement prohibited players from using smokeless tobacco during television interviews. The contract also prohibited players from carrying tobacco tins and pouches in the pockets of their uniforms and jackets.
But the players union refused to agree to prohibit its members from using smokeless tobacco.
Durbin said he has “tried every angle you can think of” to get Major League Baseball to ban smokeless tobacco.
“It’s banned in the minor leagues because the owners can control the minor leagues. But, when it gets to the Major League level, the Players’ Association has repeatedly said, ‘This is a negotiable item and we’re not going to agree unless you give us something.’ That’s the standoff we’ve had for so long. Now, we have a chance to change it,” he said.
Prior to the unanimous vote, Thompson addressed the elephant in the room: the fact that, at a time when Chicago has so many other more important crises, the City Council is banning chewing tobacco at sports stadiums.
“I know we have a lot of big issues facing the city—financial issues and crime and other issues that we deal with. But this is also an issue dealing with health and our youth,” Thompson said.
“Like you [Sen. Durbin], my father passed away from lung cancer Feb. 19, 2000. I’ve seen what the effects of tobacco are on families. As the father of a Little Leaguer, kids want to emulate what the pros are doing…As a former chewer, I see the damage it can have.”
The ordinance approved Friday would require signs declaring the smokeless tobacco ban to be posted at every stadium entrance and in dugouts, bullpens, training rooms, locker rooms, press boxes, television and radio broadcast booths and washrooms.
Players, coaches and fans who defy the ban and stadium owners who fail to post the signs would face fines ranging from $100-to-$250 for the first offense to $2,500 and possible suspension or revocation of city licenses for repeat offenses.
When Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) asked how the ban would be enforced, Durbin said the same question was asked about his smoking ban on airplanes.
Peer pressure from other passengers turned out to be the ultimate enforcement weapon. Durbin is now hoping for the same dynamic with the ban on smokeless tobacco at stadiums. Only this time, the pressure will come from other players and fans.