By RENEE BEYDA
The City Council Health Committee took aim at outlawing chewing tobacco among Major League Baseball players in New York by the start of the upcoming season, at a hearing Thursday led by Councilman Corey Johnson.
The Manhattan Democrat and his colleagues discussed a bill to ban smokeless tobacco – including chewing tobacco, snuff and dissolvable tobacco – at Yankee Stadium and Citifield among players and spectators.
Such products already have been prohibited at Fenway Park in Boston, AT&T Park in San Francisco and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
In a world where children and adolescents idolize and mimic sport stars, the sponsors stressed, the habit sets a bad example.
Kevin O’flaherty, a New York City pediatrician, is leading the effort to “knock tobacco out of the park” for the Campaign of Tobacco Free Kids.
“Baseball players serve as role models to youth throughout New York and the rest of the country and they’re endangering the wellbeing of millions of kids who look up to them and copy their every move,” he said
About 15 percent of high school students use smokeless tobacco, with higher popularity among students in organized sports. “Youth who use smokeless tobacco may be more likely to pick up smoking [cigarettes],” said Kevin Schroth, Senior Legal Counsel at the City Department of Health.
Smokeless tobacco may cause cancer, mouth disease, and cardiovascular disease. doctors say.
“Unfortunately, our young people repeatedly see professional athletes, especially baseball players, using smokeless tobacco, making this practice appear socially acceptable,” said Schroth. “While professional athletes may seem superhuman to young fans, when it comes to tobacco they’re just like the rest of us.”
Spokespersons for both the Mets and Yankees have reacted positively to the proposal, making city officials hopeful that the bill could be put into effect before the upcoming baseball season in mid-April.
The overall goal is for the MLB to put this precedent into all baseball player contracts.
Robert Arena, a 14 year old Lafayette High School student and Brooklyn Baseball Association player, testified to how as a young boy he idolized Derek Jeter and The New York Yankees. While trying to mimic his favorite players from a young age, he asked his father what they were chewing and if could have some because it looked ‘cool’.
His father explained that he was chewing on tobacco, and “Ever since, I have always and will always oppose tobacco.”