There isn’t much attractive about people with chewing tobacco crammed into one side of their mouths. Their breath stinks. They dribble brown juice down their chins and onto their clothes. They look like something out of “The Dukes of Hazzard.’’
Normally, a high school kid wouldn’t do anything that would make him look like a chipmunk halfway through a nut-gathering trip. But if his idol happens to be a tobacco-chewing major-league ballplayer, reason tends to evacuate the premises. The threat of oral, esophageal and pancreatic cancer, the diseases associated with chewing tobacco, probably aren’t anywhere in the vicinity of teenagers’ thinking.
Sometimes they need someone saying no for them.
Chicago Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) wants smokeless tobacco banned at Wrigley Field and The Cell, as well as at any amateur or pro sporting event. The idea is if pro players can’t chew and spit, impressionable high-school kids won’t get the idea to do it. If we’re serious about protecting teenagers from harming themselves, this seems like a no-brainer.
Big-league ballplayers do have an effect on kids. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, high school athletes use smokeless tobacco at nearly double the rate that non-athletes do.
If an adult wants to accept the health risks that come with chewing tobacco, that’s fine. It seems like a stupid way to get sick or die, but to each his own. When kids mimic the behavior, that’s when it’s a problem. That consequence is rarely brought up in the emotional debates about steroids in baseball. The arguments usually center on how much benefit performance-enhancing drugs have on hitting a baseball and whether known or suspected cheaters should be allowed in the Hall of Fame.
But PED use has gone up among young people. A 2014 survey showed that 11 percent of teenagers in grades nine through 12 have used synthetic human growth hormone without a prescription. They didn’t do that on their own. They did it because they think the pros do it.
Three other cities with major-league teams – San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles – already have prohibited the use of smokeless tobacco at sports venues. It’s our turn to do the right thing.