A motion to prohibit smokeless tobacco in all athletic venues in Los Angeles was passed by the city council on Sept. 8. The council voted 14-0 on the motion, and instructed the city attorney to draft legislation to prohibit the use of smokeless tobacco products at baseball fields and all other sport arenas in the city. The city council will take a final vote on the ordinance prepared by the city attorney’s office, which is expected within 30 days.
While the ordinance’s main focus is on baseball venues, the city’s health, mental health and education committee amended its terms to include all venues where amateur and professional sports are played. Councilman José Huizar, 14th District, who introduced the motion, said its purpose is to reduce the number of young people who take up the habit, specifically athletes. The restriction will cover players, fans and anyone else in any athletic venue in the city.
“Our neighborhoods are places for creating healthy choices for the next generation, not for cancer-causing habits,” said Councilman Ryu, 4th District, chair for the council’s health, mental health and education committee.
Efforts to end smokeless tobacco use have a long history in baseball, including a 2010-2011 campaign that prohibited players from carrying tobacco tins in their uniforms and using the product during TV interviews.
“Our children shouldn’t be forced to watch sports heroes they trust using tobacco in our little league fields, Dodger stadium or on television,” Ryu said. “It is important that we hold professional athletes accountable when it comes to protecting our children and neighborhoods. They are our role models, whether they like it or not, and everything they do or say is idolized by the young people who aspire to be just like them.”
In a statement the Dodgers said, “Major League Baseball has long supported a ban of smokeless tobacco at the Major League level and the Los Angeles Dodgers fully support the Los Angeles City Tobacco ordinance and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.”
Chad Saul, who has been affiliated with the Wilshire Warriors travel program for five years, said the issue of smokeless tobacco does not often come up among young players, ages 5 to 14, or their parents in Pan Pacific Park.
“The kids we work with are very serious about the sport and want to emulate the pros in any way they can, but they also really want to please their coaches. I think it would be more damaging if a coach was a user of smokeless tobacco,” Saul said. “Education on the topic at an early age is something that we instill in our players, so by the time they are tempted with it as teenagers they know it is the wrong thing to do.”
However, despite early education on the topic, a 2013 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the number of smokeless tobacco users who are high school athletes is increasing, even though smoking rates have decreased. The CDC reports 11.1 percent of high school athletes use smokeless tobacco, including 17.4 percent of all male high school athletes, compared to 5.9 percent of non-athletes.
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, 13th District, serves as vice-chair for the health, mental health and education committee. He said Los Angeles athletes are in a unique position to educate the public about the hazards of nicotine.
“We have hundreds of baseball diamonds, soccer fields and more across the city, and recreation and parks signs agreements with the leagues that use the facilities. We should make sure that these teams – both youth and adult – sign forms with a full understanding that they need to self-regulate the ban when using the facilities,” O’Farrell said.
Los Angeles is the third city to join the “Knock Tobacco Out of the Park” campaign, following San Francisco and Boston earlier this year. All three cities are expected to have ordinances in place before the 2016 season.
The cancer-causing product has been known to cause gum disease, tooth decay and mouth lesions in its users, and in severe cases causes death, as in the case of San Diego Padre and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.
“Smokeless tobacco use in the great American pastime is way past its time. The time to act is now to save others, particularly our young people, from an extremely addictive and potentially deadly product,” Huizar said.