Cubs and White Sox players who love to chew and spit tobacco may soon be forced to go cold-turkey during ballgames at Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Fields to become healthier role models for Chicago kids.
Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), the City Council’s most powerful alderman and leading anti-smoking crusader, wants Chicago to become the nation’s fourth big league city to ban smokeless tobacco at baseball stadiums and other “professional and amateur” sporting events.
Burke apparently feels so strongly about putting the ordinance in place in time for the Major League Baseball season, he introduced the ordinance directly to the Finance Committee he chairs. That’s a tactic normally reserved for the most important and time-sensitive matters.
San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles have passed similar bans that take effect this season while New York and Toronto have legislation pending. A statewide ban in California is scheduled to take effect in time for the 2017 season.
A Chicago ban 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.
“The fact that every day, boys turn on their TVs and go to stadiums and see their heroes using smokeless tobacco has had a dramatic effect,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Washington D.C.-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
“Normally, when you look at teenagers and see athletes, they engage in much more healthy behavior. But smokeless tobacco use among adolescent boys who play sports is far more likely. That tells us that literally millions of images of Major League players using smokeless tobacco is a role model for our teenagers. The images say, `This is the way to be macho, successful and just like your heroes.’”
The fact that adolescent males are “highly impressionable” by their sports heroes prompted Congress to “prohibit cigarette advertising and prohibit smokeless tobacco companies from paying sports celebrities,” Myers said.
“Yet every day, the smokeless tobacco industry gets millions in free advertising. It is undermining our efforts to reduce tobacco use among our nation’s kids,” Myers said.
“Smokeless tobacco is a major cause of oral cancer. Lest you think that’s a small problem, last year in the United States, there were over 40,000 new cases of oral cancer and close to 9,000 Americans died from oral cancer. After Tony Gwynn died and Curt Schilling was diagnosed with cancer, this took on added urgency.”
Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta, who uses chewing tobacco, said Wednesday he supports the ban but predicts a backlash.
“It would have an impact. I think a lot of people would be unhappy about it. Obviously, baseball players are creatures of habit – and not just baseball, professionals in a lot of different areas of life. People that have success like to stick to their routine and do things a certain way. Chewing is part of a lot of guys’ routines.
“I’ve cut back significantly. I really hate that I do dip . . . It’s a personal thing for me to try and get rid of.
“Overall, I think it’s a good thing to try and get it out of the game of baseball. I think it’s going to be tough to do. There’s going to be backlash,” he said.
“It’s terrible for us. It’s bad for you. If it was bubble gum, that’s one thing. But there’s things in those products that can do harm to your body and your health long term,” Arrieta said.
For five years, Mayor Emanuel has pursued a sweeping anti-smoking agenda that has driven Chicago’s teen smoking rate down to 10.7 percent.
It includes imposing the nation’s highest cigarette tax, banning e-cigarettes wherever smoking is prohibited, moving them behind the counter of retail stores, snuffing out sales to minors, banning the sale of flavored tobacco products within 500 feet of schools and taxing e-cigarettes.
At next week’s City Council meeting, aldermen are expected to vote on the mayor’s stalled plan to raise Chicago’s smoking age to 21, slap a $6 million tax on cigars, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco, and ban coupons and discounts that Big Tobacco uses to drive down the price of a pack of cigarettes to lure teens to take up the habit.
Adding the ban on smokeless tobacco at Chicago sports stadiums to that list would be a big boost for the nationwide campaign to get tobacco out of baseball, particularly this year when the Cubs are favored to win the World Series, Myers said.
“When we first began this campaign, we went to San Francisco just after the Giants won the World Series because of all the attention the Giants were getting. This year, the Chicago Cubs will get wall-to-wall coverage across the nation in their quest to win their first championship in more than 100 years,” Myers said.
“Eliminating the use of smokeless tobacco by the Cubs and White Sox will have an impact throughout the entire nation.”
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.
“If we can go coast-to-coast and get middle America [with a Chicago ban], we hope the players see the writing on the wall and say, `It’s good for kids and good for us,’” said John Schachter, a spokesman for the Tobacco-Free Kids..
Cubs spokesman Julian Green had no comment on the proposed ban. White Sox spokeman Scott Reifert could not be reached.