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Baseball should ban smokeless tobacco

Francona tobacco

After Tony Gwynn -- Stephen Strasburg’s college coach -- was diagnosed with parotid cancer, Stephen Strasburg decided to give up smokeless tobacco:

“I’m still in the process of quitting,” Strasburg, 22, said. “I’ve made a lot of strides, stopped being so compulsive with it. I’m hoping I’m going to be clean for spring training. It’s going to be hard, because it’s something that’s embedded in the game ... I’m not going to sit here and be the spokesperson for quitting dipping. I’m doing it for myself. I’m not saying anything about anybody else - it’s their personal choice. For me, it’s the best decision.”

Good for him. I wish him luck. And I agree with his sentiments about having to do it for himself as opposed to this being some larger principled stand. It’s really hard and sometimes counterproductive to shame people into quitting tobacco. My mom smoked, and God knows how hard we’ve all tried to stop her. I wish it wasn’t the case, but the fact was that it wasn’t until she wanted to stop that she did. I think most people are that way with tobacco and other addictive substances.

Not that baseball shouldn’t try. While direct appeals didn’t help my mom quit smoking, the fact of restaurant and workplace bans made it way harder for her to keep it up. Smokeless tobacco is banned in the minor leagues. It should be in the majors too, at least at the ballparks and when players are on the clock, as it were. As Strasburg himself notes, kids definitely emulate the habit after seeing major leaguers do it. What’s more, smokeless tobacco is way more dangerous for players’ health than steroids are and is way more easily obtainable for kids than steroids are. Plus, it’s totally disgusting, yo. How do these guys manage to keep girlfriends with that crap in their mouths?

As the article notes, the union believes this to be a matter for collective bargaining. I think, however, that this is an issue like steroids was: protecting the players’ rights to use -- be it directly or indirectly -- is worse for the players in the long run than simply agreeing to a ban would be.