The Major League Baseball community is heeding warnings about the dangers of smokeless tobacco use, according to New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman.
Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn died two days ago following a four-year battle with oral cancer that he attributed to using the tobacco throughout his 20-year career. The statistics surrounding oral cancer are grim and its threat is growing, experts say.
For decades an iconic sight at baseball ballparks, MLB and its players’ union in November 2011 signed a five-year labor deal mandating that smokeless tobacco be kept out of view from fans and television cameras. It also created a program to educate players on its dangers, while stopping short of instituting a major league ban.
Cashman, the Yankees’ general manager since 1998, said that he would support such a ban, though educational efforts probably have curbed use.
“Without a doubt, I see a reduction throughout the game top to bottom,” Cashman said in an interview. “The programs of the commissioner’s office, in conjunction with the union, have had a great benefit in educating people.”
Smokeless tobacco has been prohibited in the minor leagues since 1993. Tobacco companies stopped using sports personalities to advertise products in 1985.
Banning the product in the major leagues is subject to collective bargaining between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig tried unsuccessfully to have it prohibited before the 2011 labor talks.
The MLBPA “long has and continues to discourage the use of smokeless tobacco products by its members or by anyone else,” Greg Bouris, a spokesman for the union, said in an e-mail. “These products carry serious health risks and remain legally and widely available.”
Under the labor deal, all players now receive oral exams during their spring training physicals and are offered assistance if they wish to quit smokeless tobacco use.
In 1994, baseball helped create the National Spit Tobacco Education Program, to which it has contributed more than $100 million in donations, television exposure and other support, according to MLB.
Gwynn also participated in the filming of an educational video, which is near completion, that will tell players and league staff about the risks associated with smokeless tobacco.
Bouris, who declined to comment on Selig’s call for a ban, said the union doesn’t have statistics on how many players are using smokeless tobacco.
Cashman said the Yankees have been fortunate to avoid the complications that Gwynn endured. He also said he’s proactive in confronting those who continue to ignore the peril.
“Any time I do see someone in the front office, in the scouting department or someone on the players’ side, I’ll actually confront them and say, ‘‘Hey man, I’m trying to love you here and you’ve got to stop,” Cashman said. “What are you doing?”
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