Smokeless Tobacco Is Gone From the Ballpark, if Not the Clubhouse


However, Major League Baseball, which supports the bans, is doing monitoring of its own and said it has acted when it has perceived that a player has violated the local laws. First-time violators receive a written warning along with a referral to the doctor now being used as a consultant to help players to stop using smokeless tobacco. A second violation brings a fine consistent with those listed in the local ordinances.

Major League Baseball said fines had been issued but would not say how many. The fines called for in the local ordinances — sometimes just in the hundreds of dollars — are small by baseball standards.

Still, baseball officials and the local authorities seem to be hoping that perhaps more than any fines, the publicity generated by the new laws will paint a starker picture of smokeless tobacco and serve as a stronger deterrent to its use — and not only among major leaguers.

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The Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn died in 2014 from salivary gland cancer. He attributed his cancer to frequent consumption of smokeless tobacco.

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Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

“The bigger goal is about ending the influence on young people,” said Rick Coca, a spokesman for José Huizar, the Los Angeles city councilman who introduced the smokeless tobacco legislation there. “And that’s going to occur over time, not overnight,” he added.

A study released in 2014 by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society estimated that as many as one-third of major league players used smokeless tobacco, long a staple of baseball culture. These days, observation of various clubhouses suggests that the figure might be a little high. Before recent games at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, one team had at least four players with smokeless tobacco containers in the clubhouse; other teams had no visible usage.

Players are no doubt aware of the health risks of smokeless tobacco, particularly after the Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn died in 2014, at age 54, of salivary gland cancer. Gwynn began using smokeless tobacco in 1977, and he attributed his cancer to frequent consumption.

Nevertheless, a number of players said they viewed the new laws as an invasion of personal rights.

Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson does not use smokeless tobacco and says he tries to embrace a healthy lifestyle. But as a veteran leader on the team, which has had several smokeless tobacco users in recent years, he is critical of the ban in New York.

“There still isn’t 100 percent clarity in terms of who’s going to be enforcing it,” said Granderson, who also sits on the board of the players’ union. “Is it the Citi Field law enforcement? Is it going to be the police? Is it going to be the New York State Police? Is it going to be Major League Baseball? If someone in the dugout — like we have security there for our protection — if they see a player that’s using smokeless tobacco, are they going to slap them with a ticket at that time?”

One player who uses smokeless tobacco thought the law created an unnecessary burden for players who should be focused on baseball rather than the risk of becoming scofflaws.

“I do definitely look around,” said the player, who requested anonymity because he had played at Citi Field. “Like, are there any cameras on me?”

A spokeswoman for the New York mayor, Bill de Blasio, said city enforcement of the smokeless-tobacco ban was complaint-based; anyone can file a complaint by calling 311. The law falls under the Smoke-Free Air Act, which also bans smoking and electronic cigarette use in bars, restaurants, workplaces and other locations.

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Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said his players were reminded of the ban on smokeless tobacco.

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Al Bello/Getty Images

“Enforcement has consistently focused on owners/operators, rather than smokers,” the spokeswoman wrote in an email. “We haven’t received any complaints or fined any players.”

In New York, Citi Field and Yankee Stadium are required to post signs informing patrons and players of the ban on smokeless tobacco. At Yankee Stadium, smokeless tobacco is prohibited throughout the ballpark. At Citi Field, there is a twist: Smokeless tobacco is allowed in three designated locations that are inside the ticket turnstiles but outside the stadium walls.

Enforcement and penalties for the use of smokeless tobacco vary by city. In Boston, the city police handle citations and violations, although Lt. Detective Michael P. McCarthy said that none had been issued.

McCarthy added that an officer had to witness an infraction. Even then, he told The Boston Globe last year, it would probably result in an officer’s issuing only a warning.

In San Francisco, the law is enforced by the police department and public health officials, according to Jess Montejano, a legislative aide for Mark Farrell, the board supervisor who introduced that city’s smokeless tobacco legislation in 2015. Montejano said he believed that no player had been fined at AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.

“The law is really supposed to act as a deterrent to chewing, which it seems it has,” Montejano wrote in an email.

Similarly, no fines have been handed out in Washington, where the local health department is responsible for enforcement, or in Los Angeles, where the police administer the law, according to officials from both cities.

When the first laws were enacted in recent years, there was some belief that managers would be asked to warn players who continued to use smokeless tobacco.

That may not be the case, however. Miami Marlins Manager Don Mattingly, who used smokeless tobacco sporadically throughout his playing and managerial career, has not made enforcement a pressing issue.

“I haven’t even paid attention, honestly,” Mattingly said. “That’s a political issue, really, in my mind. I don’t like politics that much.”

When Yankees Manager Joe Girardi was asked whether his players were abiding by the ban, he said: “I don’t sit around and check on them. But they’re reminded, just like with all the other rules that we have.”

Under the sport’s collective bargaining agreement, rookies called up to the major leagues this season are not allowed to use smokeless tobacco in any ballpark, regardless of whether there is a local ban. And use of smokeless tobacco in the minor leagues, where few players are covered by the union, has been banned since 1993.

Major League Baseball also offers cessation programs for players who want to stop using smokeless tobacco. Dr. Michael B. Steinberg, director of Rutgers University’s tobacco-dependence program, is a consultant and the doctor to whom first-time violators are referred.

Alternatives to the stimulant effect offered by smokeless tobacco have emerged, too — most prominently, the coffee-grind pouches that are being marketed to players.

One theory, perhaps an optimistic one, is that once the current generation of players leaves the game, baseball will move close to being tobacco-free because the new players filtering in will be under a total ballpark ban.

One who thinks that will occur, and fairly quickly, is Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an advocacy group based in Washington that has led the charge for instituting local bans. “The goal is culture change,’’ he said. “By 2019, at the latest, it will be a very rare sight to see any player using smokeless tobacco. It will be essentially gone from the game by then.”

Correction: April 21, 2017

An earlier version of this article incorrectly implied that Major League Baseball had not issued warnings or fines to players it observed using smokeless tobacco in prohibited areas.

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