Baseball and the Slow Death of Chewing Tobacco
Image courtesy of © Raj Mehta-USA TODAY SportsSlow Change, a Baseball Tradition
College baseball banned smokeless tobacco in 1990 and the minor leagues quickly followed suit in 1993. Over the last 26 years, Major League Baseball has only made gradual changes to their chewing tobacco policies.
As part of the 2012 collective bargaining agreement, the league banned players from carrying tobacco packages or tin in their pockets at any time when the ballpark was open to fans. They also couldn’t use it as part of pregame or postgame interviews.
MLB took it one step further with the 2016 collective bargaining agreement by banning smokeless tobacco for all new major league players. Players already in the big leagues were grandfathered in under this rule so they would still be able to use smokeless tobacco. In 2015, a study found that 37% of MLB players and coaches used smokeless tobacco. This total is almost six times higher than the national average for males (6.4%).
Many cities and states across the country have put in place laws to ban smokeless tobacco in public places. As of June, smokeless tobacco is now banned in over half of major-league stadiums. Minnesota is not one of the 16 stadiums to be included in the ban.
Almost all current members of the Minnesota Twins were big leaguers in 2016 so they would be grandfathered in under the current collective bargaining agreement. As recently as 2016, legislation in Minnesota was introduced to ban the use of tobacco at Target Field and CHS Field.
“In general, Major League Baseball and the Twins are supportive of legislative efforts and any efforts to ban smokeless tobacco,” Twins president Dave St. Peter told the Pioneer Press. “It’s long been baseball’s position that it’s something we’d like to get out of our game.”
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has been clear on the league’s stance when it comes to chewing tobacco. “For many years we’ve been clear about baseball’s stance on smokeless tobacco,” Manfred said. “It’s banned in the minor leagues. We have proposed on a number of occasions a similar ban at the big-league level. We’ve not been able to negotiate it.”
In 2014, Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn tragically passed away at age 54 from salivary-gland cancer. At the time, some players swore off using chewing tobacco for their own health and families. That still hasn’t stopped current players. Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, two players the Twins are supposed to build around, have both been known smokeless tobacco users. There are no doubt other players on the team that have a similar addiction.
More cities and states will take action in the years ahead. Fewer players will be grandfathered under the current collective bargaining agreement. Chewing tobacco, a baseball staple, is dying a slow death, but thankfully it might not be part of the baseball world future generations will know.
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