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Cancer nurse navigator applauds ban of smokeless tobacco at some Major League Baseball stadiums

For decades in the early 1900s, tobacco advertisements and use of tobacco products by Major League Baseball players was commonplace.

However, in the early 1950s, as smoking’s correlation to lung cancer become more well-known, the commissioner of baseball prohibited all players from advertising with tobacco companies while in uniform. From there, it proceeded to players and coaches being banned from utilizing cigarettes while in uniform.

This was just the beginning to where we are approaching now – cities banning all forms of tobacco, including chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes at Major League Baseball parks. Minor League Baseball did this years ago, resulting in fines to those who partake in tobacco products.

Five cities — San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City — recently enacted smokeless tobacco bans. Now, about a third of all MLB stadiums are tobacco-free.

Baseball continues to be a national pastime, and children consistently look up to these players as idols and heroes. It comes to reason that if a child sees a professional baseball player utilizing smokeless tobacco that it is OK or safe, maybe even cool. Never during the games, when you see a player spit tobacco on the mound, do the announcers talk about the risks of oral, esophageal or even pancreatic cancers. There is no reference to the multitude of Hall of Famers that have succumbed to cancer, most likely related to the use of tobacco.

According to the alliance Tobacco-Free Baseball, 14.7 percent of high school boys used smokeless tobacco in 2013. Among all high school students, 8.8 percent use smokeless tobacco.

Although tobacco companies are no longer advertising in collaboration with Major League Baseball, the presence is still obvious. When kids see their hero doing something, hitting a home run, catching a fly ball, they want to do it. If a player wears his hat backwards or his socks a certain way, you start seeing children do it. Therefore, it should be pertinent to note that if children see their hero using any form of tobacco, they are going to want to do it, too.

Banning smokeless tobacco from Major League Baseball stadiums is only the first step. Education on the risks should be included. Baseball players could help educate on the dangers, especially those directly affected by the after-effects. These athletes have such a large role in leading our children that they should not only lead in action, but in education, as well.

About Maggie Ward

Maggie Ward is an oncology nurse navigator with the Via Christi Cancer Institute.