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Baseball’s new anti-tobacco policy is ‘progress’

WASHINGTON (BP) — Baseball’s new labor agreement does not include the prohibition on smokeless tobacco they wanted, but its new policy still marks an important step, said Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land and other advocates of a ban.

The agreement between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) included the following stipulations regarding smokeless tobacco:

— Players, managers and coaches may not have tobacco tins or packages in their uniforms during games or any other time spectators are in the stadium.

— They may not use tobacco during televised interviews or at appearances on behalf of their team.

Baseball and the players union agreed to establish an education and outreach campaign regarding the dangers of smokeless tobacco. The union also said it will inaugurate a center for helping players cease their use of smokeless tobacco, ESPN reported.

“While not a complete victory, this is tremendous progress in the right direction,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “I want to express my appreciation to all of those who contacted [the MLBPA] and urged them to take this very positive step, which will help to protect the health not only of major league players but the millions of young men who idolize them, as major league players have always been idolized by young men in America.”

The Knock Tobacco Out of the Park Coalition — which includes medical and public health groups, as well as religious leaders — said it, like Land, continues to back “a complete prohibition on tobacco use at games and on camera.”

“Still, this is significant progress…. This agreement marks the first time that the league and the players have recognized it is time to break this unhealthy addiction,” the coalition said in a written release.

“We urge individual players to go further than the agreement, and completely eliminate their use of smokeless tobacco at games.”

The five-year labor agreement, which was announced Nov. 22, will take effect in 2012.

In May, Land and 24 other religious leaders urged the MLBPA to agree with baseball Commissioner Bud Selig’s backing of a ban on smokeless tobacco on the field and in the dugout. They made the appeal in a May 30 letter to Michael Weiner, the union’s executive director.

Land also encouraged ERLC constituents to write the players union to ask that it support such a prohibition.

Smokeless tobacco — in the form of dip or chewing tobacco — has long been a part of professional baseball. A 1999 survey of major league rookies found 31 percent were using smokeless tobacco. There has been a 36 percent increase in the use of such tobacco by high school males since 2003, according to the letter from Land and the other religious leaders.

Such tobacco use has been found to cause oral cancer, gum disease, tooth decay and mouth lesions.

Tony Gwynn, who played for the San Diego Padres and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, underwent treatment last year for salivary gland cancer that he attributes to smokeless tobacco use throughout his professional career.

Major League Baseball prohibits smoking by players in view of fans and cameras, and minor league teams have had a complete ban on tobacco use since 1993.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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