Congress urges baseball to ban smokeless tobacco
After hounding Major League Baseball and its players union over
steroids, Congress now wants the sport to ban smokeless
“Good luck,” San Francisco Giants reliever Brandon Medders
said. “Guys do what they do. We work outside. It’s been part of
the game for 100 years.”
At a hearing Wednesday, House Energy and Commerce Committee
chairman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, and Health
Subcommittee chairman Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, called
on baseball and its players to agree to bar major leaguers from
using chew, dip or similar products during games.
MLB executive VP Robert Manfred and MLB Players Association
chief labor counsel David Prouty told lawmakers they agree that
smokeless tobacco is harmful – Manfred said a ban in the majors is
“a laudable goal” – but both pointed out that any ban would have
to be agreed to through collective bargaining.
They said their sides are willing to discuss the topic during
future negotiations; baseball’s labor contract is due to expire in
“I can tell you, anecdotally, there are plenty of players who
are against it, who think, ‘Of course it should be banned.’ There
are plenty of players who use it. Do they think it should be
banned? I don’t know,” the union’s Prouty said in an interview
after the 3 1/2-hour hearing.
“We can go back to the players and say, ‘Congress feels
strongly about this. You ought to think about it. Look what’s
happened on other issues Congress felt strongly about,”’ Prouty
Smoking cigarettes while in uniform and in view of the public is
not allowed in the majors. Smokeless tobacco has been banned in the
minors since 1993 but is allowed in the majors, and players and
managers often can be seen using products during games or carrying
a tin of dip in a back pocket.
“For them to pull it off in the minors really surprised me,”
Twins reliever Pat Neshek said after Minnesota played the Boston
Red Sox on Wednesday. “We’ll see if that gains much
Neshek, who said he’s never tried smokeless tobacco but
considers the notion of a ban “ridiculous,” remembers players in
the minors skirting the rules.
“People would still do it,” he said. “I don’t know if they’d
mix it in with their gum or something like that.”
At the hearing earlier Wednesday, Anna Eshoo, a California
Democrat, wondered aloud: “Why don’t they just chew gum if they
feel the need to chew something?”
During his opening statement, Waxman said: “We don’t let
baseball players go stand out there in the field and drink beer.
Major League Baseball won’t allow them to step on the field and
smoke cigarettes. So why should they be out there on the field – in
sight of all their fans on television and at the ballpark – using
Waxman was one of the leaders of the House Government Reform
Committee when it held a series of hearings on
performance-enhancing drugs in baseball with witnesses such as Mark
McGwire, Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens in the
same Rayburn House Office building used for Wednesday’s
There were no current baseball players in attendance Wednesday,
but former major leaguer and longtime anti-tobacco advocate Joe
Garagiola testified, speaking for about 15 minutes, instead of the
“I would like the players … who are role models; I don’t care
what anybody says … to quit carrying a can of dip in their
uniform pockets,” Garagiola said.
“Why can’t baseball and the players association right here get
together and ban it? Take it off the field,” Garagiola said.
“Tobacco is tobacco is tobacco. … Get it out of our game.”
Terry Pechacek of the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, and Deborah Winn of the National Cancer Institute
testified about the links between smokeless tobacco and cancer, and
the addictiveness of smokeless tobacco. Pechacek said smokeless
tobacco can cause oral cancer, pancreatic cancer and has been
linked to fatal heart attacks.
Harvard professor Gregory Connolly said research shows about
one-third of major leaguers report they use smokeless tobacco, and
he says that contributes to use by youth in America.
Asked about the topic after playing against the New York Yankees
on Wednesday, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Torii Hunter wasn’t
sure whether it’s fair to blame ballplayers for kids using
“Anything healthy is always good, but I wouldn’t put it on us.
You know, there’s grandparents that do that, that dip and all that
stuff,” Hunter said. “It’s probably right there in your
Hunter said he doesn’t use dip and has tried to persuade other
players to stop.
“I can see they don’t want kids to do it, which is good,”
Medders said before San Francisco hosted Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
He also called the idea that smokeless tobacco, which he uses,
could be banned, “just stupid.”
Giants manager Bruce Bochy is trying to quit his longtime
smokeless tobacco habit, and he stops during each offseason. He’s
down to about two dips a day; he says the tobacco makes him sharper
in his decision-making during games.
“I’ve dramatically cut back. I feel a lot better,” Bochy said.
“It’s not as prevalent in the game as it used to be, which is a
good thing. We know it’s not good for you, and I’m guilty. We are
role models. Believe me, I made sure my two boys don’t do it. I
don’t know if it should take an act of Congress to do it. Starting
in the minor leagues, we’ve done a pretty good job.”
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco, and AP
Sports Writers Dave Campbell in Minneapolis and Mike Fitzpatrick in
New York contributed to this report.