(St. Paul, Minn.) — State Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL - Golden Valley) introduced legislation (H.F. 4008) that would prohibit the use of smokeless tobacco products at professional sports stadiums in Minnesota, both to set the right example for America’s youth and for the health of the players. The legislation will send a simple and powerful message to kids with the 2016 baseball season underway: baseball and tobacco don’t mix.
Public health advocates joined Rep. Freiberg in announcing the latest leg of the “Knock Tobacco Out of the Park” campaign to promote tobacco-free baseball and help reduce smokeless tobacco use among kids. San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles, New York have enacted similar legislation that took effect at the start of this season. Chicago’s legislation goes into effect in mid-June, and other Major League Baseball cities such as Washington, D.C. and Toronto are considering similar measures as well.
Recent headlines have driven home the seriousness of the problem. In June 2014, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn died at age 54 after a long battle with salivary gland cancer, which he attributed to his longtime use of chewing tobacco. Two months later, pitching great Curt Schilling, only 47, announced his treatment for oral cancer that he said was “without a doubt, unquestionably” caused by 30 years of chewing tobacco.
“We need to make smokeless tobacco use in baseball a remnant of the past – and Minnesota should be proud to play a role in that movement,” said Rep. Freiberg. “By allowing smokeless tobacco at the ballparks, we send the absolute wrong message about tobacco use. It’s time to take tobacco out of the game completely for the good of baseball and for the health of our kids and players alike.”
According to a report issued in September 2015 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), high school athletes use smokeless tobacco at nearly twice the rate of non-athletes (11.1 percent compared to 5.9 percent in 2013), and smokeless tobacco use among athletes increased from 2001 to 2013 (from 10 percent to 11.1 percent), even as smoking rates dropped significantly. Among male high school athletes, smokeless tobacco use is particularly alarming at 17.4 percent in 2013.
“Smokeless tobacco use is hazardous to health, can lead to nicotine addiction and should definitely not play any role in professional sports,” said Nancy Franke Wilson, Executive Director of the Minnesota Oral Health Coalition. “Smokeless tobacco contains at least 28 known carcinogens and causes oral, pancreatic and esophageal cancer – as well as other serious health problems such as gum disease, tooth decay and mouth lesions. It’s long past time to get it out of baseball to send the right message to kids in Minnesota and across the country.”
Even as cigarette use continues a steady decline among youth, smokeless tobacco use has remained troublingly steady. Overall, according to the CDC, in 2013, 14.7 percent of high school boys (and 8.8 percent of all high school students) reported current use of smokeless tobacco products. Each year, about 535,000 kids age 12-17 use smokeless tobacco for the first time.
Freiberg’s proposal would apply to sports stadiums where professional teams play. While smoking is already prohibited in most such stadiums, House File 4008 would expand the prohibition to include smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes.
“Our national pastime should be about promoting a healthy and active lifestyle, not a deadly and addictive product,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Today’s announcement keeps the momentum on our side to finally get tobacco out of baseball for kids, the players and the future. We applaud Rep. Freiberg for his dedication to kids and to his commitment to achieving our goal of making the next generation tobacco-free.”
Smokeless tobacco companies spent more than $435 million on marketing in 2012 (the most recent year available), which is almost three times the amount they spent in 1998.
More information on the Knock Tobacco Out of the Park campaign can be found at tobaccofreebaseball.org. The website includes tools that allow fans and other members of the public to send messages to MLB and the Players Association telling them to get tobacco out of baseball. Baseball fans in Minnesota will be able to contact their elected officials and urge them to support the measure announced today to make baseball tobacco-free.
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