Push Back From Baseball On Chewing Tobacco Ban

The World Series begins tonight in St. Louis. And while most fans will be keeping their eye on the ball, health officials will be tracking something else: How often the camera catches players chewing or spitting tobacco juice.

Smokeless tobacco is banned from college baseball and the minor leagues, but a major league player with a cheek full of chew remains a common sight.

Dr. Alfred McAlister studies tobacco control and behavioral science at UT’s School of Public Health.

He says about one-third of major league players chew tobacco.

“Over the last ten years in World Series games, there’s been an average of 9 minutes of display of smokeless tobacco use per game. This is millions of dollars in free advertising for smokeless tobacco that’s really a dangerous thing.”

This year, health officials from the host cities of St. Louis and Arlington are asking the player’s union to ban smokeless tobacco. They’ve been joined by at least four U.S. senators.

If they can’t get an official ban through in time for this year’s Series, they’d like players to voluntarily give up chewing, at least in front of the cameras.

McAlister says about 15 percent of high-school boys use chewing tobacco. 

As a drug of choice, it appeals far more to boys than girls.

And McAlister says its perceived masculinity is only reinforced when viewers see major league stars chew on TV.

“The kind of gold chains they were, the kind of hairstyles, they’re imitating that. And that’s all right, but to display a cancer-causing, addictive use of a drug, I think it’s something that major-league players don’t want to do.”

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said in March he would endorse the ban, but the players’ union hasn't yet committed to one.

Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...