You won’t be seeing professional baseball players at the Rogers Centre with a giant cheekful of chewing tobacco if one city councillor has his way.
On Monday, Coun. Joe Mihevc introduced a motion directing the Medical Officer of Health to report on restricting chewing tobacco use in professional and amateur sports facilities in Toronto.
The motion will be tabled at the next Board of Health meeting on Mar. 21.
Surprisingly, Toronto wouldn’t be the first city to ban smokeless tobacco in its facilities. Boston’s ban on smokeless tobacco in its facilities – including famed Fenway Park – comes into effect on April 1.
And all stadiums in California will be chew-free just prior to the 2017 baseball season. Currently, it’s prohibited in sports facilities San Francisco and Los Angeles. On Thursday, New York Mayor Bill deBlasio moved to ban tobacco from New York’s stadiums.
“While chewing tobacco has long been part of the culture for many professional sports, especially baseball, research shows that it has very real and serious health consequences,” Mihevic said in a release. “We need to be at the forefront of the movement to restrict its use and join with major cities such as L.A., Boston, and New York.”
Skipping that ballpark chew might be annoying for fans, but it could be downright detrimental to players who have become accustomed to having a wad in their mouths during a game.
“For some guys, it’s part of their playing routine,” Chicago Cubs catcher David Ross told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s hard to tell somebody what tools they can take to their work.”
Jake Peavy of the San Francisco Giants agrees. “It’s really, really hard to tell grown men who have been in this game and done it for a long time that they can’t do something that’s legal,” he said. “Old habits die hard.”
Josh Thole, Justin Smoak and Chris Colabello are counted among Toronto Blue Jays who regularly chew tobacco on the field.
Unofficial stats show that the number of players who still chew tobacco has decreased in recent years, from about one-half of players to one-third. Instead, ballparks have gotten into the habit of making chewing gum and sunflower seeds available as alternatives.
Blue Jays Manager John Gibbons quit two years ago, following the death of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn of salivary gland cancer.
“I was a tobacco user for a lot of years. I’m not proud of that. I finally was able to quit. It’s a dirty, filthy habit,” Gibbons told the Toronto Star. “I wouldn’t want my kids doing it. You hope in some way, they can eliminate it and wipe it out.”
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, smokeless tobacco contains at least 28 cancer-causing chemicals and causes oral, pancreatic and esophageal cancer.
Major League Baseball tried to make a tobacco ban part of the last collective bargaining agreement between owners and players, but the players rejected it.