Senators urge baseball to ban chewing tobacco

WASHINGTON - Four U.S. senators and health officials from the cities hosting the World Series are urging the baseball players union smokeless tobaccoto agree to a ban on chewing tobacco at games and on camera.

The senators, including No. 2 Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois, and health officials from St. Louis and Arlington, Texas, made the pleas in separate letters, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. The World Series between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals begins in St. Louis Wednesday night.

“When players use smokeless tobacco, they endanger not only their own health, but also the health of millions of children who follow their example,” the senators wrote to union head Michael Weiner. In addition to Durbin, the signers were fellow Democrats Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Senate health committee chairman of Tom Harkin of Iowa.

The senators noted that millions of people will tune in to watch the series, including children.

“Unfortunately, as these young fans root for their favorite team and players, they also will watch their on-field heroes use smokeless tobacco products,” they wrote. Smokeless tobacco includes chewing tobacco and dip.

With baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement expiring in December, the senators, some government officials and public health groups like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids want the players to agree to a tobacco ban in the next contract.

“Such an agreement would protect the health of players and be a great gift to your young fans,” the senators wrote.

Commissioner Bud Selig endorsed the ban in March, but the players union hasn’t committed to one. Weiner, who said in June that a “sincere effort” will be made to address the issue, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Some baseball players interviewed by The Associated Press last month were receptive to the idea, but others viewed a ban as an infringement on their freedom.

Meanwhile, the health officials from St. Louis and Arlington wrote in a letter to Weiner that with tobacco companies banned from advertising on TV, they “literally could not buy the ads that are effectively created by celebrity ballplayers using tobacco at games.”

The officials, Dr. Cynthia Simmons, the Public Health Authority for Arlington, and Pamela Walker, the St. Louis interim health director, urged players in the World Series to voluntarily abstain from using tobacco, in addition to calling for a permanent ban.

The Centers for Disease Control says that smokeless tobacco can cause cancer, oral health problems and nicotine addiction, and stresses it is not a safe alternative to smoking. Despite the risks, the CDC’s most recent survey found that in 2009, 15 percent of high school boys used smokeless tobacco — a more than one-third increase over 2003, when 11 percent did.

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