Commentary: San Francisco Knocks Tobacco Out of the Park

Commentary- San Francisco Knocks Tobacco Out of Park- Join Together News Service from the Partnership for Drug-Free KidsThis spring, while the San Francisco Giants geared up for another season, their local government hit a home run of its own. The Mayor of San Francisco signed a unanimous Board of Supervisors action last week, to ban smokeless tobacco on playing fields throughout the city.

The ban includes AT&T Park, making the Giants the first major league baseball team to be free of chewing tobacco and marking the first victory in a joint effort of health, youth and anti-tobacco organizations to “Knock Tobacco Out of the Park.”

As local lawmakers were acting to ban chewing tobacco on San Francisco’s playing fields, HBO’s “Real Sports” featured a story about Tony Gwynn, the great San Diego Padre slugger, who lost his battle with salivary cancer last summer; a cancer that Gwynn directly attributed to his decades of smokeless tobacco use.

Gwynn’s death at age 54 was a devastating blow to our national pastime. We lost one of the game’s most prolific hitters and biggest personalities to one of the game’s greatest blights, smokeless tobacco.

While Gwynn’s story stands out due to his fame, his addiction is all too common among baseball players. Players taking the field with a cheek full of cancer-causing tobacco are as plentiful as fly balls and their behavior has a real impact on young fans. The same HBO feature introduced us to Gruen von Behrens, a young man from Illinois who loved baseball. He wanted to be just like his favorite players, so he started dipping tobacco just like them. At the age of seventeen, Gruen was diagnosed with stage IV oral cancer.

Rob Manfred, baseball’s new commissioner, said “One major league player using smokeless tobacco is too many.” But, according to coverage of the issue, the MLB Players’ Association opposes the league’s proposal to rid baseball of tobacco. Representatives for the players’ union have stated they do not condone the use of chewing tobacco, but profess a preference for individual choice over an outright ban. Their executive director said in one interview, “Our hope is that we can continue to educate guys on the damage that dipping can do and they will continue to decide not to dip and chew.”

The Board of Supervisors took action, in great part, because this isn’t just a major league sports issue; it’s about role modeling on a public health issue. San Francisco lawmakers took aim at big tobacco’s free advertising: no more star athletes with cheeks packed with chew will be seen by millions of impressionable eyes focused on AT&T Park. Their action is a huge stride in protecting the wellness of young baseball fans around the country.

We imagine other communities will draw inspiration from San Francisco’s example and take steps to protect future ballplayers and their fans, sparing them the agony of a tobacco-related illness and the senselessness of tobacco-related death. Knocking tobacco out of our ballparks will take more action, but it is a change that our ballplayers and their fans will live to appreciate.

Robin Koval
CEO & President
Legacy®

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    Fr. Jack Kearney

    May 28, 2015 at 1:59 PM

    Once again Legacy ignores science and relies on anecdotal evidence to promote something for political purposes. The real problem with tobacco is smoking it, not chewing it.

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    Jo Lighter, R.N., BSN

    May 28, 2015 at 12:45 PM

    I applaud this move–my concern as with other changes concerning tobacco and nicotine usage in public places, is who enforces them? I am from rural Midwest and that is an issue for sure.

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