Top Health Officials in Major League Baseball Cities Want Tobacco out of the Ballgame

Mar 29, 2011, 11:40 ET from Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Teams and players must act to protect players and kids

WASHINGTON, March 29, 2011/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- With Opening Day of  the 2011 baseball season set for Thursday, top public health officials in 15 Major League Baseball cities around the country are calling on Commissioner Bud Selig and the Major League Baseball Players Association to ban tobacco use by players, managers, coaches and other staff at major league ballparks.


The directors of health departments from every region of the country – representing a majority of cities where Major League Baseball is played – wrote to Selig and Michael Weiner, executive director of the players' union, asking them to agree to prohibit tobacco use in the contract that takes effect in 2012.  The new collective bargaining agreement is being negotiated now.    

"As officials in Major League cities around the country, we know that baseball is important to civic life and that ballplayers are local heroes," the officials wrote. "They should provide positive role models and not associate themselves with a product that causes disease and death."

Major league city health officials signing the letter represent:   Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Kansas City, Mo., Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York, Oakland, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Washington, DC.

The municipal health officials join the chief executives of 10 major medical and public health groups, who wrote to Selig and Weiner in November asking for the tobacco prohibition.  The groups have launched an online campaign, with social media tools that allow fans and other members of the public to tell their hometown teams, players and Major League Baseball that continued use of smokeless tobacco at baseball games is unacceptable.

"Baseball players are role models for our children, making impressions that last a lifetime. It's time for major leaguers to step up to the plate like the rest of professional baseball and go tobacco-free," said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health in Seattle and King County, Washington.

In New York, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said:  "Major League Baseball players are role models for boys and young men, and their use of a deadly product sends a dangerous message. The truth is, smokeless tobacco causes oral cancer, and by starting young users on nicotine it may increase the chance that they will later take up smoking."

Smokeless tobacco use among high school boys is spiking – there has been a 36 percent increase since 2003 and 15 percent of high school boys currently use smokeless tobacco, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Smokeless tobacco has been found to cause oral cancer, pancreatic cancer, gum disease, tooth decay and mouth lesions. There is reason to worry that its use by young people also may serve as a gateway to cigarette smoking, the nation's number one cause of preventable death.

The use of smokeless tobacco in Major League Baseball has drawn scrutiny from Congress and the media for months. In April 2010, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, chaired by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), held a hearing on the issue. Last month, U.S. Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) called for Major League Baseball and the players association to ban the use of tobacco products. The senators cited Washington Nationals' pitching ace Stephen Strasburg's struggle to overcome his addiction to smokeless tobacco.

In addition to Strasburg, those who have spoken about the challenge of quitting include American League Most Valuable Player Josh Hamilton and Bruce Bochy, manager of the World Champion San Francisco Giants. Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn's recent cancer diagnosis and his public comments attributing his disease to years of chewing tobacco have underscored the health threat from smokeless tobacco.  

Tobacco use was banned in baseball's minor leagues in 1993. The NCAA and the National Hockey League have instituted prohibitions on tobacco use.  Major League Baseball is lagging behind.  

For more information:  

Letter to Major League Baseball and  Major League Baseball Players Association from public health officials in MLB cities:

Letter to MLB and MLBPA from 10 national medical and public health groups:

Tobacco-Free Baseball website:

SOURCE Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids