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Council considers ban on smokeless tobacco at Trop

ST. PETERSBURG — Those bulges under the lip and disgusting brown streams of spit are on the way out at Tropicana Field.

A City Council committee voted unanimously Thursday to ban smokeless tobacco products from the Trop, a move supported by the Tampa Bay Rays and Major League Baseball.

The proposed ordinance will now get a hearing before the full City Council. The public will also get to weigh in. But if the council ultimately approves it, St. Petersburg would become the 13th major-league team to join the ban. Teams in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York and San Francisco are among those that also have a ban.

"MLB has long supported a ban of smokeless tobacco at the Major League level, and we are pleased that our new collective bargaining agreement includes additional provisions that prohibit use," said a statement from the league. "We support the efforts of cities to ban the use of all tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco, in sports stadiums and arenas."

The team also voiced its support.

"The Tampa Bay Rays, in coordination with Major League Baseball, support (the) Council's decision to ban smokeless tobacco at Tropicana Field," the Rays said in a statement.

Rays bench coach Tom Foley, who has been dipping for most of his 40 years in pro ball, said he will go along with the rules — but he won't be happy about it.

"It's a good thing, and eventually it's going to happen everywhere, there's just going to be a blanket rule," Foley said. "I'm a law-abiding citizen, so we'll do what we have to do.

"These are the laws, the rules, the ordinances. I just might be a little more grumpy on the bench. I don't know that I could be that much more grumpy, but now I might be."

Said Rays catcher Curt Casali: "The Trop is a public place, similar to an airport and tobacco. Many players won't be happy about it. But I certainly understand it."

However, the ordinance would do far more than just outlaw smokeless tobacco from the Trop. It would also prohibit it from any organized athletic events in the city, whether they're being held at public parks or private golf courses. And the ban doesn't just apply to players, coaches and team personnel. It would include anyone who attends those events.

The idea, said Kevin O'Flaherty of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, is to eliminate a pernicious activity that role models for younger athletes often engage in.

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

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

Before he died of cancer in 2014, Hall of Famer and San Diego Padres batting phenom Tony Gwynn said his condition was the result of his lifelong use of chewing tobacco. Earlier this year his family filed suit against the tobacco industry, alleging that it manipulated the baseball legend into becoming addicted to smokeless tobacco at a young age. Pitching great Curt Schilling also blamed his dipping habit for his recent bout with cancer.

City Council member Darden Rice, chair of the Energy, Natural Resources and Sustainability committee, championed the measure. She said Thursday that the city needs to act on the issue.

St. Petersburg would not be alone in challenging smokeless tobacco products. California is also working on a ban. And a new collective bargaining agreement reached between the league and the players union bans new players from using smokeless tobacco.

While there were a handful of uniformed Rays using smokeless tobacco last season when they encountered bans in Boston and New York, others had already made a switch, such as manager Kevin Cash, who was using an herbal tobacco-free substitute that comes in flavors such as peach and wintergreen.

And for others, who stick to gum or sunflower seeds, the new rules won't mean anything.

"I'm not a tobacco user, so it will be business as usual for me at the Trop,'' pitcher Jake Odorizzi said. "I think it's something that is a personal choice. If you feel the need or want to do it, then that's your choice. Doesn't really affect me one way or the other if someone does it.''

The era of big-leaguers chewing is coming to an end, O'Flaherty said. He said that about 25 percent of current MLB players still use smokeless tobacco products.

"It's not a matter of if," the habit will end in baseball, he said, "but when."

Council member Ed Montanari said he was concerned about the ordinance enforcing the ban on private land like a golf course. But council member Karl Nurse said the ban would function similarly to the ban on smoking in restaurants enacted decades ago. Police officers didn't have to enforce the ban, he said. Instead, cultural norms shifted.

Rice said the ban would send a clear message: "Baseball and tobacco don't mix."

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago. Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

Council considers ban on smokeless tobacco at Trop 12/15/16 [Last modified: Friday, December 16, 2016 11:45am]
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