Debate Forum: 4/12/16

Herbs and Ale Photo Illustration.
Photo copyright by Jim Witmer for Dayton City Paper use. Herbs and Ale Photo Illustration. Photo copyright by Jim Witmer for Dayton City Paper use.

MLB: Major League Ban

Baseball’s relationship with tobacco on the rocks
By Sarah Sidlow

It’s one of America’s most intimate and underappreciated odd-couples: baseball and tobacco. They were infants together; they grew up together; they’ve watched the rise and fall of American heroes together for nearly a century.

When the official rules for baseball were written, back in 1845, the tobacco trade in America was on fire. Since that time, tobacco culture and baseball culture have intersected.

The term “bullpen”—the area pitchers wait in before taking the mound—probably came from the Bull Durham Tobacco advertisements hanging over outfield fences where the relief pitchers warmed up.

Baseball cards—you’ve probably heard of them—began popping up in cigarette cartons as a way to entice buyers, but also as a way to protect the smokes from being crushed.

Cigarettes, snuff, chew and then dip—as baseball evolved so did the tobacco industry. When legend Babe Ruth died of throat cancer in 1953, the long-term effects of smoking and chewing tobacco were still largely unknown. Now, we know better.

Yet smokeless tobacco remains a huge part of baseball culture, particularly among players. But now, that culture is being challenged in one of baseball’s biggest markets.

The City Council of New York recently voted 44-3 to ban smokeless tobacco at all ticketed baseball parks and arenas—including, of course, Yankee Stadium and Citi Field.

New York will become the fifth market to enact such a measure, joining San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles, whose bans were be in effect by the start of the 2016 season, and Chicago, whose ban will begin before this season’s All-Star break. But New York is notable for being both the largest city and the home to two historic franchises “stepping up to the plate” to begin the divorce from tobacco.

Plenty of people support telling tobacco, “You’re out!” because one, it’s gross, and two, it’s really bad for you. Smokeless tobacco contains at least 28 known carcinogens and causes oral, pancreatic and esophageal cancer. Not to mention gum disease, tooth decay and mouth lesions. And it’s still popular with kids, thanks to its long association with sports. Among male high school athletes, smokeless tobacco use was at 17.4 percent in 2013.

“Our national pastime should be about promoting a healthy and active lifestyle, not a deadly and addictive product,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in an official press release.

But there’s another element at play that’s also totally American: the defense of personal liberties.

Many people are viewing these public bans as over-legislation of human behavior. And that’s not good. New York is now the fifth U.S. city to ban public use of a product that is both disgusting and deadly, but totally legal for adults to purchase and consume. Especially one whose health risk is totally confined to the user, not to anyone in the vicinity.

This isn’t the first time tobacco use has been challenged in baseball. In 2010, 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.

In 2011, the League banned smokeless tobacco use during pre- and post-game interviews.

If you follow trends, it will be interesting to see how this ban plays out at ballparks across the nation. Also, if you follow trends, it’s fair to wonder whether players and spectators may soon be enjoying the game through a haze of flavored vape smoke.

Just a thought.

Reach Dayton City Paper freelance writer Sarah Sidlow at

Snuff out

By Ben Tomkins

The decision to outlaw all forms of tobacco at every sports venue in New York City if people have to buy a ticket initially gave me pause. Every time legislation passes that prohibits people from doing something that isn’t obviously harmful to anyone but themselves, my hackles go up. While that case can easily be made for cigarettes because the people sitting around you have to suck the smoke in too, banning smokeless tobacco carries with it an innate impression of pointed moralizing. It’s like making vegan jokes. Even people who agree are going to roll their eyes. If everyone in the room has the same joke in their head because it’s so obvious, the least funny person is the one who thinks it’s worth saying out loud.

As a gentleman of leisure, I have developed quite the talent for several excellent vices, and I don’t particularly care to be told that I should not do something simply because someone else chooses not to do it. Actually, I never like being told I shouldn’t do something I want to do. I merely grant exceptions to otherwise violence-worthy, petty miseries like speed limits—clearly nebulous guidelines anyway—because the only thing worse than being stuck in traffic is being stuck in traffic because some useless social pig rooting up all of society’s truffles smashed their car into a concrete divider at 400 mph.

Therefore, the question that demands an answer to justify outlawing smokeless tobacco in addition to cigarettes is exactly the response I would expect if I mentioned it to the guy next to me: “What the hell has it got to do with you?”

Presuming he didn’t just spit on my shoe, as an adult, pretty much nothing. If two people buy a ticket to a game, the only reason security should be called over is if I have to stand in a puddle of brown drool because they guy’s slobbering like a mastiff in my personal space. Most people seem to have the proper respect to use an empty beer cup.

Kids, however, are another story. Perhaps the most implicitly understood phrase in the English language is “it’s different when it’s kids.”

There’s no denying that kids are impressionable and will imitate heroes, and there is something to be said for the fact that in that regard smokeless tobacco is an indirect but tangible harm. Obviously this law will stop a bunch of televised superstars from being shown day-in and day-out participating in the great tradition of slowly turning a baseball sticky and brown while getting cancer, and for the sake of kids that’s not so bad.

I remember when sunflower seeds became the new alternative because you could basically chew them like tobacco, and as a bonus, retain the pleasure of spitting on something. Some famous players started doing it, and a month later half the kids on my baseball team were chewing sunflower seeds. Fair enough. The social contract does not include a clause that suggests we ignore reality. I also experienced the horror of having to get a required MMR vaccination to go to school. You get a bunch of stupid, crunchy parents deciding their breast milk is somehow better than science and all of a sudden you’ve got a population with the first mumps outbreak in 50 years.

Mumps suck. So I’m told. I was vaccinated because my parents aren’t idiots.

Personally, I also think there is legitimacy to the sanitation argument. Although baseball is singled out (sorry, no pun) because it’s an iconic part of the game, nobody’s going to be dipping at a Knicks, Giants or Rangers game either. It is close quarters, and there’s a big difference between accidentally having a beer spilled on you and a carefully amassed cup of someone’s bodily fluids. If it was you, you’d be entirely grossed out, but if it was your daughter you might actually want to take her to the doctor the next day to make sure she doesn’t have some kind of disease. It’s the same reaction when your kid bonks their head, and although you feel a bit silly, you take them to the doctor because there’s an outside chance they have a brain bleed.

The interesting piece of the puzzle is that this only applies to paid sporting events. When you buy a ticket, you’re not buying a license to do whatever the hell you want. You’re buying a ticket to be afforded the same courtesies as the people around you, and if one of those courtesies is a right to have a person removed for shouting profanity, I don’t see why it should be out of bounds to suggest other things fall into that category as well. If someone was puking on the ground, I don’t think they would be allowed to stay and continue vomiting next to you just because they paid for a ticket. Likewise, if you drink too much and get out of control you have to go.

Ultimately, I just don’t think that banning smokeless tobacco in this generalized way should be outside the bounds of the voters. The voters had a right to try Prohibition, and even though it failed, drinking wasn’t some sacred right enshrined in the Constitution. An electorate can choose what kind of a society it wants within certain limits, and banning smokeless tobacco is fair game.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at

Bottom of the 9th for personal freedom

By Tim Walker

The Nanny State, it seems, just knocked another one out of the park.

Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, signed legislation on April 6 banning the use of smokeless tobacco in all of the city’s sports facilities that issue tickets. The new law effectively ended the rights of Major League Baseball players to use smokeless tobacco while playing at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, homes of the Yankees and Mets, respectively. De Blasio’s move also made New York City the fifth U.S. city to enact similar legislation, joining San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago. The very idea of this is simply appalling to me.

Later that same evening, the Yankees played the Astros in Yankee Stadium. “Tonight, at Yankee Stadium, Major League baseball history will be made again with the first tobacco-free game,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “We welcome this historic action because our national pastime should be about promoting a healthy and active lifestyle, not a deadly and addictive product. With the mayor’s signature, New York sends the right message to millions of young fans that chewing tobacco is dangerous and should not be an accepted part of sports culture.”

Major League Baseball? A healthy lifestyle … what? Forgive me if I don’t mention the rampant steroid use among ballplayers that so often makes the nightly news, or the myriad drug tests failed, or even Pete Rose and the whole gambling debacle. Are these athletes really the people we want our children looking up to in the first place? And if New York is making this move to encourage the children in the stands to live healthier lifestyles, perhaps they need to consider banning stadium beer sales for the fans, and artery-clogging hot dogs and nachos while they’re at it. God forbid our kids should wind up beer-swilling, lard-ass Bronx baseball hooligans. Maybe Great American Ball Park can install a few treadmills on the club level, so the kids can do a little cardio while they cheer on the home team, and enjoy a carrot juice.

Baseball and chewing tobacco have a shared history that goes back for over 100 years, a history that’s as all-American as the lump in Babe Ruth’s cheek.

With the rise of cigarettes as another option for tobacco users, advertisers started including images of baseball player on packages, both to help entice buyers to pick their brand and to protect the cigarettes from damage. Kids began collecting cards from the packs their fathers purchased, leading to the growth of the baseball card industry that would blossom over the next century. In 1909, ballplayer Honus Wagner would famously tell the American Tobacco Company to take his picture off their packs because he didn’t want to be responsible for influencing young people to smoke. That card, known as the “T206 Honus Wagner”, would go on to become the most famous baseball card ever. In 2013, a T206 card sold for $2,105,770.50, a record for a baseball card on an online auction.

I grew up as a baseball fan. Nolan Ryan. Mike Schmidt. Riverfront Stadium, Sparky Anderson and the Big Red Machine. Did the ballplayers I watched chew tobacco? Sure, they did … Johnny Bench had a big wad of chaw in his cheek every game. In a 1975 interview with the Milwaukee Sentinel, the future Hall-of-Famer said “It’s a release. Since you can’t yell at the ump or say anything to the fans, you just spit,” he said. “Gum wears out your jaws and sunflower seeds are messy, especially for a catcher.”

But did I ever try chewing tobacco, in veneration of my baseball heroes? No, not even once. Have I ever smoked cigarettes, even though Clint Eastwood—another childhood hero—and both my parents did? No. Have I ever injected steroids a la Barry Bonds, or tried cocaine a la Darryl Strawberry? No.

Because we, my friends, are not our heroes. Every human being, as an individual, has the right and the ability—has the mandate—to make our lives our own. Every parent has the responsibility to teach their children about life and decisions and responsibility and consequences, and a parent’s influence damn well better trump that of some ballplayer on TV.

I’m taking my family to see the Dragons this summer. My kids might see a fan who had too much beer to drink while we’re there. Or someone riding a bicycle to Fifth Third Field without a helmet on. Or someone out on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette. They might even hear a ballplayer use a naughty word. And that’s okay.

Because to sanitize our world in the name of protecting our children, to try and legislate adults into conforming to some mythical healthy bubble-wrapped standard of living, is misguided, wrong and ineffective. It’s a fairy tale way of looking at life, and the great American pastime deserves better than that.

Tim Walker is 50 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their 2 children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts.

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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at

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