I was in eighth grade the first time a teammate offered me chewing tobacco.
Like so many kids across the country, I first became aware of the stuff on a baseball field. Just 13 years old at the time, I passed on what I am sure my teammate thought was a harmless offer. As the years went by and I continued to play, I would always pass on the offer, yet the number of people dipping around me continued to grow. By the time I was done with high school ball, I was one of just a few players to have never spit.
I always asked teammates why they dipped. To me, habitually putting a pinch of tobacco in your mouth was equivalent to asking for a tumor. While some guys liked the buzz or others were just trying to fit in, there was always one answer that stood out.
“It’s a baseball thing,” was always the most popular response.
I never could argue against that. Whether it be an eighth-grader in some random town or your favorite big leaguer playing in a stadium filled with tens of thousands of people, chances are you can find a tin or a pouch in the immediate vicinity.
While chewing tobacco – or smokeless tobacco – is a detrimental and disgusting habit for anyone to pick up, it is especially an issue that kids continue to pack because of this belief that it is part of the game they are playing. That is why I salute New York’s City Council for passing a bill that will ban the use of smokeless tobacco products at sporting arenas like Yankee Stadium and Citi Field.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said he will “definitely” sign the bill – which applies to major league baseball players – into law, according to the New York Post.
“It’s very important for the health of our players, and for the city as a whole,” de Blasio said on ESPN Sunday. “Young people look up to baseball players, and they look up to all athletes, and we want to protect everyone’s health.”
Like it or not, athletes are role models to kids. New York, which now joins Boston, San Francis- co and Los Angeles as cities to ban the addictive substance in sporting arenas, is simply trying to make its athletes better – and healthier – role models. When kids with dreams of playing ball see stars like Matt Harvey, Brett Gardner and Yoenis Cespedes us- ing tobacco products, they think that’s how the game is supposed to be played.
The Post writes that 25-30 percent of players still use chewing tobacco and snuff. By comparison, one in every five high school males – and a “small number” of females – use it, according to KidsHealth.org. The site also said that 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with mouth and throat cancers annually, with nearly 8,000 dying.
For those trying to put two and two together, smokeless tobacco – which contains 28 carcinogens – increases the risk of cancer in the mouth and throat, as well as the lips, tongue, cheeks and gums, among other health concerns.
With that in mind, I applaud the cities and Major League Baseball – who said violations of city laws will result in baseball-related penalties – for trying to keep tobacco out of sight.
Countless kids learn a lot of valuable skills and lessons from baseball. Chewing tobacco does not need to be one of them.
Gary Phillips is a journalism major from Ramsey, N.J. He can be reached at gary.phillips@student. shu.edu or on Twitter @GaryHPhillips.