California proposal would ban chewing tobacco at baseball parks, with MLB support

Associated Press

Anti-smoking advocates are hoping to strike out chewing tobacco at California baseball games.

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The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids announced Tuesday that it will sponsor legislation to ban all tobacco products at baseball venues, including Major League Baseball and organized league games.

MLB says it supports banning smokeless tobacco and the spirit of the proposal. Using chewing tobacco, known as dipping, is already prohibited in minor leagues.

The issue was highlighted by the death last June of former San Diego Padres all-star Tony Gwynn, who believed his oral cancer was linked to longtime chewing tobacco use.

"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, in a news release.

His group's push is one of several proposals in the California Legislature this year to limit the use of tobacco products, including using e-cigarettes in public and increasing the legal age to buy cigarettes to 21. Public health advocates fear the rise of alternatives to traditional cigarettes undermines the success of anti-smoking campaigns.

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Tobacco groups in recent years have successfully opposed less sweeping legislation in California. A bill to ban e-cigarette vending machine sales could not pass the Legislature last year.

Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, will carry the proposed baseball tobacco ban, which would apply to players and fans for games across all levels.

Major League Baseball negotiates chewing tobacco rules with the players' union, which previously agreed to ban carrying tobacco tins during games and dipping during interviews. Union spokesman Greg Bouris says tobacco use is discouraged, but the union has no comment on the proposed legislation.

The union has signaled it's open to discussing a ban when it negotiates a new contract in two years.

San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who resorted to hypnosis to break his chewing tobacco habit, credited internal efforts to reduce tobacco use in Major League Baseball.

"You learn to play with it," he said Tuesday during spring training in Arizona. "To force that, to ban it, it's going to be difficult. It's something you have to want to, you really do."

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Associated Press writer Janie McCauley contributed from Scottsdale, Ariz.