It was a great year for Major League Baseball. Yes – the Chicago Cubs did it. After a drought of 108 years the Cubs won the World Series. But, while it would be hard to convince a Cubs fan, something maybe even more important happened. Major League Baseball teams are beginning to become role models for tobacco free living by eliminating the use of tobacco on the playing field.
Why is this important? Young people around the world emulate baseball players. Kids imitate the swing, the catching style, the antics, and unfortunately the tobacco use of their major league heroes. While smoking rates have gone down among young people, smokeless tobacco use has been terribly persistent, and especially prevalent among teenage athletes. Smokeless tobacco addiction starts early, and too often ends in some really awful illnesses.
Tobacco use by baseball players has been rampant since the rules of baseball were written back in 1845. Despite growing knowledge about the health problems caused by tobacco, and courageous advocacy by pioneers like Honus Wagner, who had American Tobacco take his picture from the marketing because he did not want to be a poor example for young people, tobacco use by baseball players increased through the 20th century. The trend wasn’t slowed by tobacco caused illness among players like Babe Ruth, Tony Gwynn, and Bill Tuttle.
More recently things have begun to change. Tireless work by advocates for tobacco free baseball like Joe Garagiola, and Mr. Tuttle, led to a ban of tobacco in the minor leagues in the mid 1990’s. Treatment programs and education programs have been made available to players at all levels. And this past year five cities with Major League Baseball teams have banned the use of tobacco during sporting events and the whole State of California will do the same beginning in 2017.
Congratulations Major League Baseball on this important progress. We hope MLB will ‘swing for the fence’ and eliminate tobacco use all together. It’s important for the players, but crucial to those young fans whom look up to those players.