Commentary: Changing Culture, Play Ball

Changing Culture, Play Ball- Join Together News Service from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

When Pittsburgh Pirates ace Francisco Liriano threw out the opening pitch of the 2016 season, he kicked off a historic season for America’s pastime: 2016 marks the first year in the history of Major League Baseball that some stadiums will be tobacco free.

Laws passed in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco will prohibit smokeless tobacco at sports venues. California recently passed a statewide ban. Once the laws go into effect, one third of our ballparks will be smokeless, tobacco-free venues.

Throughout April, the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Giants hosted home openers that were free of smokeless tobacco at one of the most iconic homes in baseball –Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, and Chavez Ravine.

Culture can play a critical role in the campaign to end tobacco use, whether it’s cigarette imagery in video games and youth-rated films, the effects secondhand smoke has on pets, or the fact that smoking has a negative impact on your dating life. Tobacco use by athletes who serve as role models for young people are another example of this cultural influence.

In 2013, the most recent year for which data is available, tobacco companies spent $503 million on marketing smokeless tobacco. Teens, particularly teenage boys, are at risk. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that 1,000 men under the age of 18 use smokeless tobacco for the first time every day.

The effort to ban smokeless tobacco on Major League Baseball ball fields is an effort to reach young males at risk of using smokeless tobacco through culture. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, high school athletes are nearly twice as likely to use smokeless tobacco than non-athletes, and that use is growing. 

Earlier this year Truth Initiative joined representatives of 34 health organizations in calling on Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association to prohibit the use of all tobacco products at major league venues.

Public health agencies and advocates are waging the fight against smokeless tobacco beyond the diamond as well.

Data from the Food and Drug Administration’s Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health study indicates that 31.8 percent of rural, white males 12-17 years old are at risk of using smokeless tobacco.

The FDA recently expanded its “Real Cost” campaign to educate rural, white male teenagers about the harms of smokeless tobacco use with the message that smokeless is not harmless. The campaign is selectively targeting 35 U.S. markets, with a message focusing on real-world dangers of smokeless tobacco use, including health and cosmetic consequences.

FDA will also partner with Minor League Baseball teams to help spread the message. Minor League Baseball banned smokeless tobacco in 1993.

Getting smokeless tobacco out of baseball stadiums is a real home run and another example of how we can tap into culture in order to save lives.

Robin Koval
CEO & President
Truth Initiative

PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash; Antoine Schibler

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