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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

St. Pete poised to be 13th MLB city to ban chewing tobacco at the ballpark



Those bulging cheeks and disgusting brown streams of spit appear to be on the way out at Tropicana Field.

A City Council committee unanimously approved a ban on smokeless tobacco at the Trop on Thursday. The Rays have already said they support ridding Rays games of the noxious chew.

If the council gives final approval to the proposed ordinance, it's not just the Trop that outlaws smokeless tobacco, but any organized athletic event in the city or at rec centers, parks, even private golf courses.

And the ban doesn't just apply to players, coaches or other team personnel, but anyone who attends the events or frequents the locations subject to the ban.

The idea, said Kevin O'Flaherty of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, is to eliminate a pernicious role modeling for younger athletes. 

High school athletes are 60 percent more likely to dip than non-athletes, O'Flaherty said. And while overall high-school smoking rates have been halved in over the last generation, smokeless tobacco use has remained static, he said.

"Baseball players are powerful marketers for our kids,": O'Flaherty said.

The 2014 death of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn was attributed by him to his longtime use of chewing tobacco. Pitching great Curt Schilling also blamed his dipping habit for his recent cancer bout.

Darden Rice, chairwoman of the Energy, Natural Resources and Sustainability, has championed the measure. She said Thursday that the city needs to act.

 Already, with a pending statewide law in California that would affect five teams, 12 major-league cities are slated to sign on to the ban, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Milwaukee. 

And a new collective bargaining agreement reached by the players and league last month bans new players from using smokeless tobacco.

The era of big-leaguers chewing is coming to an end, O'Flaherty said. Currently,about 25 percent of MLB players use smokeless tobacco, he said.

"It's not a matter of if, but when," he said.

Council member Ed Montanari said he was concerned about the ordinance enforcing the ban on private land like a golf course. 

But Karl Nurse said the ban would function similarly to the ban on smoking in restaurants decades ago. Police officers didn't have to enforce the ban, he said. Instead, cultural norms shifted.

[Last modified: Thursday, December 15, 2016 3:20pm]


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