Opinion: No place in baseball for smokeless tobacco

By: Dick Durbin | As published in the Chicago Tribune

My feelings about tobacco took shape at the bedside of my father in November 1959. I was a sophomore in high school when lung cancer took his life. He was 53 and had smoked two packs of Camels a day.

As a member of Congress I first went up against the powerful tobacco lobby in 1987 and shocked myself and my colleagues by passing a bill banning smoking on airplanes on domestic flights of less than two hours. That measure turned out to be a tipping point. A series of local, state and federal laws followed, leading to restricting tobacco use on all flights, on trains and in hospitals, offices, restaurants and malls.

Despite all these victories, my battle against tobacco consistently struck out in one key area. For over 20 years I have been trying to get spit tobacco out of Major League Baseball.

Just as youth players wear their socks and sweatbands like the pros, or mimic the swing or windup of their favorite star, they are watching as baseball players slip a wad of tobacco in their cheek or under their lip. That sends a visual message, leading teenage boys to imitate this dangerous habit.

The numbers tell the story. While use of cigarettes and cigars among high school athletes declined from 30 percent to 18 percent between 2001 and 2013, use of smokeless tobacco increased by 10 percent in that population over the same period.

Among 8th grade students, the use of smokeless tobacco increased 14 percent between 2013 and 2015. Each year, nearly half a million kids age 12-17 use smokeless tobacco for the first time.

Tony Gwynn, the legendary San Diego hitter, was the most well-known baseball victim of salivary gland cancer caused by spit tobacco. Before his death in 2014, Gwynn attributed his oral cancer to his chewing tobacco use, “Of course it caused it … I always dipped on my right side,” he remarked. He and his family were honest about the cause of his death and reminded us of the real danger of this deadly habit.

Baseball owners such as Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox are outspoken opponents of spit tobacco. They remind me that all forms of tobacco are banned in the minors. Bobby Brown, a former Yankee and a medical doctor, became president of the American League. He joined the late Joe Garagiola, the former St. Louis Cardinal player and announcer, in leading the fight against spit tobacco. Despite all this opposition, the owners ran into a brick wall negotiating the issue with the players’ organization. I remember calling the players’ lead negotiator, Donald Fehr, many years ago. When I raised the danger of spit tobacco to the health of his players, he said: “It’s a negotiable item” and hung up.

The 2016 baseball season marks a long-anticipated breakthrough.

With the leadership of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, five major league cities (New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco) have enacted ordinances banning spit tobacco at their ballparks, and Toronto and Washington, D.C., are considering similar bans. When I met Tony Clark, the head of the Players Association, at a Major League Baseball event in Havana a few weeks ago, I reminded him that his players have to live in this new world. I don’t want to see any player embarrassed or fined. I just want a sport I love to stop promoting a deadly tobacco habit.

Democrat Dick Durbin is the senior U.S. senator from Illinois.


USA Today Column: Past time for MLB to ban smokeless tobacco

Use among teen athletes is rising and won’t fall until their MLB role models give it up.

By: Frank Pallone

The first pitches of the new Major League Baseball season in Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco mark the moment players there must abide by local laws that ban chewing tobacco use in ballparks. Similar restrictions in Chicago and New York will go into effect later this season. This is a first in the major leagues, and a welcome change, but it’s long past time to get chewing tobacco out of America’s pastime.

Chewing tobacco has been pervasive in the game since the rules of modern baseball were first written in 1845.

What’s different today is that the dangers are well known. The use of chewing tobacco has devastating health effects, including oral, pancreatic, and esophageal cancer. It also leads to heart and gum disease, tooth decay, and the loss of jaws, chins, cheeks and noses.

After years of suffering through a difficult and painful battle with cancer, former San Diego Padres Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn died in June 2014 of salivary gland cancer. While there’s no definitive way to pin down cause and effect, Gwynn said the cancer was located exactly where he placed his chew.

Six years ago, at a congressional hearing in Washington, I demanded that chewing tobacco be banned from baseball. That hearing was followed by multiple letters to MLB and to individual teams asking them to take action to get chewing tobacco out of the game. MLB responded to that request by proposing a ban during the last contract negotiations with the players, but the final agreement fell short.  That’s why on Monday, in letters to MLB and the MLB Players Association, I’ll once again demand that they finally ban chewing tobacco completely from the game.

Some argue that professional players are adults and chewing tobacco is a personal choice. But these players are role models and their behavior and habits are often copied by young players and fans alike.

At the 2010 congressional hearing, Dr. Gregory Connolly of the Harvard School of Public Health testified that “there can be no doubt that public use by MLB players directly contributes to youth smokeless tobacco use in the United States.”

Today, millions of teenagers and young adults in the U.S. use smokeless tobacco.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the use of smokeless tobacco by youth athletes increased from 2001 to 2013. Young athletes are almost 80 percent more likely to use smokeless tobacco products than non-athletes.

These trends will not stop until MLB players stop using chewing tobacco. It’s encouraging to see city governments in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco banning the use of chewing tobacco at ballparks in those cities. Letters posted in every clubhouse during spring training from both MLB and the MLB Players Association explained that players are expected to comply with the new laws.  It’s also encouraging that a number of players have voluntarily stopped chewing.

But it’s not enough.  We need to change the culture of baseball at all levels, and that starts at the major league level.  As Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts recently said, “like it or not, players are role models, and we have a platform as coaches and players.”

It’s been more than 30 years since players were first banned from smoking cigarettes in uniform and in view of the public. MLB banned chewing tobacco in the minor leagues in the early 1990s, as did the NCAA. Baseball legend Joe Garagiola, who died last month, testified at our 2010 hearing as the longtime chair of the National Spit Tobacco Education Program. He told the committee, “I would like to see the Major League players agree to the terms of the Minor League Tobacco Policy, which bans Club personnel from using and possessing tobacco products in ballparks and during team travel.”

MLB and the MLB Players Association must finally ban the use of smokeless tobacco. It’s time to get chewing tobacco out of baseball for good. That would be a home run for the health of our nation.

Rep. Frank Pallone represents New Jersey’s 6th Congressional District and is the senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

In addition to its own editorials, USA TODAY publishes diverse opinions from outside writers, including our Board of Contributors. To read more columns like this, go to the Opinion front page.


USA Today Editorial Board: Raise cigarette sales age and see: Our view

The Editorial Board

When California lawmakers voted this month to raise the legal age to buy cigarettes from 18 to 21, they joined Hawaii and more than 100 localities in seeking a new way to prevent vulnerable teenagers from getting hooked.

Almost everyone who smokes started by age 18, research shows. The tobacco industry, among the world’s slickest marketers, has known and used that fact to its benefit for decades. “Raising the legal minimum age for cigarette purchaser to 21 could gut our key young adult market (17-20) where we sell about 25 billion cigarettes,” a Phillip Morris report noted in 1986.

This suggests that raising the age is worth a try. Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Calif., ought to sign the measure, and careful study is warranted to find out to what degree the change  affects teen smoking.

Parents and public health advocates shouldn’t get their hopes too high. Teenage behavior is unpredictable and resourceful; many teens use fake IDs to buy alcohol and no doubt would do the same for tobacco. But unless a few states make the change, the value can’t be calculated. Right now, all but five states set the legal purchase age at 18. In Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah, it is 19. Hawaii went to 21 on Jan. 1.

Although smoking rates among high school seniors have fallen drastically, from 33.5% in 1995 to 11.4% last year, that still leaves millions of adolescents addicted and vulnerable in later years to cancer, heart disease and premature death. Raising taxes, running anti-smoking ad campaigns, and making smoking less cool  have worked, but more is needed.

Last year, the respected Institute of Medicine projected that if the legal age were raised to 21, by the time today’s teenagers became adults smoking prevalence would be cut by 12%. The greatest impact, the IOM found, would likely be among teens 15 to 17. Meanwhile, other avenues of getting cigarettes are drying up: Vending machines have all but vanished, and less than 10% of stores sell illegally to minors.

Plenty of reasons exist to try to cut further into youth smoking. Nicotine exposure during adolescence is likely to adversely affect cognitive function and development. Adolescents are more prone to addiction than adults because parts of the brain most responsible for decision-making, impulse control and susceptibility to peer pressure are still developing. As for the health effects, the risks for smoking-related illness rise not only with the number of cigarettes smoked per day but also with the number of years a person smokes.

The most persistent argument against raising the age is that at 18, people have the right to marry, to vote and to serve in the military, so they should be able to choose to smoke. But society does set 21 as the age for another dangerous activity, drinking alcohol — a change that has prevented about 900 drunken driving deaths per year. Smoking is the public’s business, too: Everyone helps pick up the tab for the enormous health care costs of tobacco-related illnesses.

In Finland, daily smoking dropped significantly among 14- to 16-year-olds after the legal age was raised from 16 to 18 and enforcement was bolstered. There’s no comparable research in the United States, which is precisely the point. Given the tobacco industry’s success in getting young people hooked, teenagers deserve to find out whether the U.S. has been missing a powerful tool to save their lives.

USA TODAY’s editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.


Dr. Eric Johnson: Tobacco tax will deter young people from using products

By Dr. Eric Johnson, Grand Forks – Jamestown Sun

As a Grand Forks physician and chairman of the recently announced efforts to initiate a ballot measure to increase North Dakota’s tobacco taxes, it’s important the public be given the facts right off the bat.

First, North Dakota’s tobacco taxes have not been increased since 1993, ranking us 47th in the nation for cigarette tax rates. If passed, this measure would bring North Dakota’s cigarette tax from 44 cents per pack to $2.20 per pack, just slightly above the average of $2.08 per pack of our neighboring states.

Second, it will treat the liquid nicotine drug (smoked via electronic cigarettes) and those who sell it exactly the same as all other tobacco products.

Third, it will dedicate current revenues exactly where they currently are: to the state’s general fund and back to North Dakota’s cities. New revenues generated from the increase will be split evening between a fund created to support the unmet needs of North Dakota’s veterans and a fund to support health programs associated with chronic disease treatment, county health programs and the mental health and addiction crisis facing our state.

Luckily, North Dakota already fully funds a tobacco prevention program utilizing a small portion of the money won by the state of North Dakota when it sued tobacco companies in 1998 for lying to the public and to Congress about the deadly impacts of tobacco. No moneys from this measure will go toward these efforts.

These are the facts. Seventy-five percent of adult tobacco users started before the age of 18. Significant tobacco tax increases are proven as the most effective way to keep young people from ever starting tobacco. That’s an effort we can all support.


Bismarck Tribune Editorial: N.D. becomes leader in tobacco fight

North Dakota has garnered praise for its spending efforts to reduce tobacco use. There’s a little irony in this since the Legislature in the past has questioned the amount of spending.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids looked at how states used the billions of dollars received from lawsuits settled with major tobacco companies in 1998.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, North Dakota is the only state to spend at levels it recommended. The state also was one of five states to spend at least 50 percent of what the CDC recommends.
Spending by states on tobacco prevention programs bottomed out at $459.5 million in 2013, according to the campaign’s report, and is expected to reach $468 million in 2016. At the same time, an estimated $25.8 billion will be collected in settlement funds and tobacco taxes. Tobacco companies reportedly spend about $9.6 billion a year on marketing. North Dakota has $10 million planned for fiscal year 2016.
The anti-tobacco campaign appears to be working.
A survey conducted by the state Department of Public Instruction and the Department of Health shows 80 percent of the students responding said they did not use cigarettes, cigars or smokeless tobacco, an increase from 74 percent two years ago. The percentage of high school students who said they had smoked a cigarette at least once in the month dropped from 19 percent to 12 percent. The percentage of high school students who said they had ever tried to smoke a cigarette was 35 percent, down from 41 percent in 2013. Smokeless tobacco use declined from 14 percent to 11 percent this year.

The anti-tobacco effort emphasizes keeping kids from using tobacco and if they do, getting them to quit. The numbers indicate they are being successful. Some have questioned the amount of money being spent and how it’s being used. While the campaign may appear heavy-handed at times, it’s getting the point across. In the past some legislators wanted to spend less on anti-tobacco efforts and divert the tobacco settlement money to other programs. In 2008 North Dakotans passed a measure requiring a portion of the settlement funds be used for tobacco prevention.
Even a tobacco company favors the spending. “We believe states should use (settlement) payments to fund tobacco cessation and underage tobacco prevention programs at levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control,” Brian May, a spokesman for Philip Morris, told the Forum News Service.
The anti-tobacco effort has been successful in other areas with smoking banned in public areas. And now the efforts go beyond traditional forms of tobacco to vaporing products. The dangers of second-hand smoke is another focus, with apartment residents being urged to demand a smoke-free environment. Some may think this is going too far, but anti-tobacco campaign is on a roll and has the money to keep going.
Society is getting closer to being smoke-free, too fast for some and too slowly for others.

Fargo Forum editorial: Tobacco cessation succeeds

There is good news in the war against tobacco use: North Dakota is winning.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said last week that North Dakota is the only state spending at levels recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on tobacco cessation programs. That level is 50 percent of funds designated from the 1998 tobacco settlement lawsuits.

But it’s about more than spending dollars where they were meant to be spent. It’s about results, and on that score North Dakota is a leader. For example, a portion of the money was spent to fund a study of secondhand smoke’s effects in Grand Forks, the results of which were pivotal in that city passing a 2010 law that outlawed smoking in bars, casinos and truck stops. Several North Dakota cities, using information compiled locally and by the North Dakota Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy, easily approved ordinances directed at ending secondhand smoke in public places and businesses. Most of the cities were ahead of a Legislature that remained in the thrall of the state’s tobacco lobby, and it took a 2012 ballot measure to impose statewide restrictions on smoking and secondhand smoke.
There has been some grousing and whining about how tobacco settlement money is being spent in North Dakota. It’s come mostly from special interests that lost the tobacco cessation battle years ago. They were wrong then and are wrong now about the effects of the expenditures. For example, during the time that education and public service efforts were ratcheted up, smoking among youths plunged to 11.7 percent this year after hovering at about 20 percent the eight previous years.
Anti-tobacco programs work. The statistics are unambiguous. Tobacco settlement money has been well-spent in North Dakota, and the CDC and others recognize the state’s success. That’s good news.
Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board

NY Times Opinion: Clashing Views on E-Cigarettes

A British government agency has issued a bullish assessment of the value of electronic cigarettes in helping people to quit smoking. It found that e-cigarettes can reduce the health risks of smoking by 95 percent because they deliver nicotine to satisfy an addiction, but far fewer harmful chemicals than regular cigarettes. It also found little evidence that large numbers of consumers who had never smoked were taking up e-cigarettes. That seemed to challenge the notion that e-cigarettes would be a gateway to more dangerous products.

But the study is hardly definitive; experts in America have drawn different conclusions on usage and on the gateway issue.

The British assessment, commissioned by Public Health England and conducted by academic experts, was cautious in its claims. It noted that the best results are obtained when e-cigarettes are used in combination with professional counseling and smoking-cessation medication.

In the United States, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, e-cigarette use by young people has grown more rapidly than in Britain. The user population includes many children who have never smoked and thus may be vulnerable to being hooked by nicotine and later moving to traditional cigarettes.

By coincidence, a day before the British study was issued, a study tracking more than 2,500 students at 10 Los Angeles schools who had never smoked tobacco, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, came to the opposite conclusion. It said ninth graders who had tried e-cigarettes were far more likely than other students to start smoking “combustible tobacco” (cigarettes, cigars, hookahs) within a year.

Strong regulation is needed in Europe and the United States to protect young people from advertising and promotions designed to lure them into trying e-cigarettes and perhaps getting hooked on them. America’s Food and Drug Administration needs to issue rules it proposed last year and make them even stronger by banning flavors that appeal to youngsters.


Opinion: Chamber's tobacco tax stance flawed

I used to believe smoking was just a part of life. My parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbors, doctors, nurses, teachers, etc. all smoked around me as I was growing up.
For years, I worked in bars and restaurants where people smoked. The more they smoked, the more they drank. The more they drank, the more they spent. The more they spent, the more I made. Simple.
I even participated in a public service announcement urging people to vote against banning smoking in bars in restaurants many years ago. I would be a hypocrite if I did not disclose that information.
I was dead wrong.
State Chamber executive Andy Peterson’s opinion piece in The Forum (Sunday, July 12) offering a rationale that it’s “free enterprise” for the Greater ND Chamber of Commerce’s stance on lobbying against a cigarette tax increase prompted me to research what this stance may be costing his members.
North Dakota has the sixth-lowest cigarette tax per pack in the United States, $0.44 per pack. Montana, $1.70 per pack. South Dakota, $1.53 per pack. Minnesota, $2.90 per pack. Canada, $2.80 per pack.
Statistically, there are more than 440,000 workers in North Dakota (Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor).
I couldn’t find exact numbers but let’s say, conservatively, half of those workers, 220,000, work for the 1,037 member businesses listed on the Chamber’s website. Four of the top five largest employers in the state are also members of the Greater ND Chamber of Commerce. The fifth employer was not disclosed.
The average cost to a business per employee who smokes is $5,816 a year, per a 2013 Ohio State University study. A Gallup poll from 2013, “estimates that 19 percent of workers still smoke and that workers who smoke cost the U.S. economy $278 billion annually in lost productivity due to absenteeism and extra health care costs. This figure is based on an analysis of the cost of extra missed workdays due to poor health, partial absenteeism due to smoke breaks, and additional health care costs compared with workers who do not smoke.”
So let’s say, conservatively, 41,800 workers (220,000 x 19 percent) employed by the Greater ND Chamber businesses still smoke. That is potentially costing these member businesses $243,108,800 ($5,816 x 41,800).
The most recent revenue numbers I could find from cigarette sales in North Dakota was $68,951,521 for 2009.
Now I’m just beginning my graduate studies in business, but it appears it would be in the Greater ND Chamber’s best interest to encourage a cigarette tax increase.
Not only would an increase in the cigarette tax raise revenue for some of Peterson’s members, it would decrease the amount of money most if not all of his member businesses are losing out on paying for smoking- related costs.

Opinion: Does the ND State Chamber side with the U.S. Chamber on Opposing Tobacco Prevention?

By: Dr. Eric Johnson, Grand Forks
President, Tobacco Free North Dakota
If you have not read the June 30, 2015 New York Times article titled, “U.S. Chamber of Commerce Works Globally to Fight Antismoking Measures”, please do so. While we acknowledge there is, at times, a disconnect between national, state and local organizations such as the Chambers of Commerce organizations, I couldn’t help but recognize some similarities between Chamber international efforts as detailed in the article referenced above and the actions of the Greater North Dakota Chamber here in our state.
Even as an active member of the Healthy North Dakota Summit, a public health initiative established by then-Governor John Hoeven and whose statewide plan identifies strategies to “support North Dakotans who make healthy choices – in schools, workplaces, senior centers, homes and anywhere people live, learn, work and play,” the GNDC has not only been absent in supporting tobacco prevention efforts in our state, it has actively opposed them.
With the goal to “reduce tobacco use in North Dakota” on paper in their statewide plan and in mind, we are troubled to see efforts of the Chambers of Commerce – whether internationally or here at the state level – combat proven prevention strategies that save both lives and money.
We call on North Dakotans to demand better and challenge the GNDC to accept what the numbers have long confirmed – that comprehensive tobacco prevention practices are fiscally responsible to taxpayers, health care systems, and ultimately, our workforce and employers in the business community.
Click here to read Mr. Andy Peterson’s letter to the editor in response.
And click here to read Dr. Eric Johnson’s corrections to the inaccuracies of Mr. Peterson’s letter.