WASHINGTON -- Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land has joined other religious leaders in urging the Major League Baseball players union to support a ban on tobacco use at games.
Twenty-five members of the Faith United Against Tobacco coalition urged the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) to agree with baseball Commissioner Bud Selig's backing of a ban on smokeless tobacco on the field and in the dugout. They made the appeal in a May 30 letter to Michael Weiner, MLBPA's executive director.
Selig has endorsed the prohibition as part of a new collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and the players association. The current agreement is set to expire in December.
Major League Baseball prohibits smoking by players in view of fans and cameras, and minor league teams have had a complete ban on tobacco use since 1993. The National Hockey League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association also prohibit tobacco use.
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In the letter, the religious coalition called for the ban because of the negative health consequences of smokeless tobacco on the players and the poor example it sets for young people.
"What players do on their own time is their business, but what they do when they are in uniform and on camera is all of ours, especially considering what's at stake," the letter said.
Such tobacco use has been found to cause oral cancer, gum disease, tooth decay and mouth lesions.
Smokeless tobacco -- in the form of dip or chewing tobacco -- has long been a part of professional baseball. A 1999 survey of major league rookies found 31 percent currently used smokeless tobacco. There has been a 36 percent increase in the use of such tobacco by high school males since 2003, the coalition's letter said.
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"When the cameras are rolling and they zoom in on a player, the last thing we want our kids to see is a big wad of chewing tobacco in his cheek or under his lip, as if he's an advertising spokesman for deadly tobacco," said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in a written release. "The players must recognize that they are harming their own health and jeopardizing our children's futures by continuing to make it look as though smokeless tobacco is integral to the major league mystique."
Tony Gwynn, who played for the San Diego Padres and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, recently underwent treatment for salivary gland cancer that he attributes to smokeless tobacco use throughout his professional career.
Public health organizations and members of the U.S. Senate have called in recent months for a smokeless tobacco ban at the major league level.
Among the other signers of the letter are James Winkler, chairman of the coalition and general secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society; Galen Carey, director of government affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals; Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches; Roy Medley, general secretary of the American Baptist Churches USA; David Saperstein, director of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Sayyid Syeed, general secretary of the Islamic Society of North America.