Editorial: Baseball should bag the chew

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 18, 2011

As the World Series between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals gets under way tonight, health officials are worried that the spitting may make a bigger impact than the hitting when it comes to young viewers. Theyíre asking the baseball playersí union to approve a future ban on chewing tobacco at baseball games and other times theyíre on broadcast cameras.
This has been a long-running concern, and with good reason. Despite years of research linking smokeless tobacco products to cancer, oral health problems and nicotine addiction, their use among young people has risen in recent years. The CDCís most recent survey found that in 2009, 15 percent of high school boys used smokeless tobacco ó a more than one-third increase over 2003, when 11 percent did. Health officials believe part of that increase stems from the erroneous belief among the young that smokeless tobacco is less harmful than cigarettes.
While no oneís suggesting pro baseball players or other athletes are to blame for that increase, they do have an outsized impact on the young people watching them. Thatís why theyíre paid to endorse products such as candy bars and bats.
Thus far, the baseball union hasnít made a decision on the ban, which commissioner Bud Selig endorsed. The ban also received support from a group of senators. Recently surveyed by the Associated Press, some players approved of the idea, while others objected to it as an infringement on their freedom. If so, itís a freedom that many other American workers lost long ago as their workplaces came under bans on tobacco use.
Itís up to the players to decide which is more important ó the chew in their mouths or the children watching at home. If they canít accept the idea of protecting their own health, they should at least think of the wellbeing of the youngsters who look up to them as heroes.
Meanwhile, as the playersí union debates the issue, you wonder why broadcasting companies, in concert with public health agencies and anti-tobacco groups, donít take a bigger swing at this on their own. They could take advantage of World Series viewership, numbering in the millions, to air public-service ads about the dangers of smokeless tobacco products. That would require surrendering some prime-time advertising revenues, but the health of the nationís children is worth it. Also, why not have the camera operators avoid those lingering closeups of players with a bulging wad of chew in their jaws? Not only would that avoid sending kids the wrong message, it also would spare home viewers from some major league grossness on their TV screens.