New York Times takes on chewing tobacco in baseball


I’ve written extensively about this in the past year — about the push to get chew out of baseball. The New York Times just published a story about, joining other major newspapers like the Los Angeles Times in exploring the stubborn tradition of chewing tobacco in baseball.

Chewing tobacco is for whatever reason deeply entrenched in the culture of baseball. Baseball player chew at a much higher rate than the general population. According to the Professional Baseball Trainers Association, one-third of ballplayers chew tobacco, down from about half a few years ago. However, that’s still considerably higher than the general population of adult men, of which only about 6 percent chew. (Virtually no women chew for whatever reason, probably because it’s so gross.).

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AP photo

Tony Gwynn’s death last year of salivary gland cancer and Curt Schilling’s battle with oral cancer have sparked the most recent debate about chew in baseball. Chew is already banned on the field and in the dugouts in the NCAA and Minor League Baseball. San Francisco banned all tobacco chewing in AT&T Park (even including players and coaches) beginning next year and a bill has been introduced in the California State Assembly to ban chewing tobacco in all ballparks in California (this would affect the A’s, Dodgers, Padres and Angels, as well as visiting teams). We’re talking chew on the field or in the dugout; they can’t ban players from chewing on their own time.

Though chew has been banned in the Minor Leagues and NCAA for many years now, it’s still allowed in Major League Baseball (Though, get this, players are banned from chewing tobacco while conducting television interviews.). It would take an agreement with the Player’s Association through the collective bargaining process to get chew off the field and the dugouts.

chew in baseball 3
Getty image

The New York Times went to San Francisco to talk to Giants’ players and coaches. Pitcher Jake Peavey said players won’t be able to stop chewing because it’s so addictive and will probably have to pay a lot of fines. Madison Bumgarner, who earlier came out in favour of the law, is a “dipper” and he said he could quit. Yankees’ pitcher CC Sabathia chews and said he would follow the law and not chew while playing in San Francisco (or California if the state passes a law.).

From the article:

Andrew Susac, the Giants’ backup catcher, receives emails from his mother relaying horror stories about people who have had parts of their jaw removed because of the effects of tobacco use. Susac tried gum and sunflower seeds as alternatives, but they did not suffice, he said. He tried a nontobacco imitation, but that did not work, either. He tried using pouches of coffee grinds, but they made him jittery.

Susac guessed that he dipped five times a day during the season, including in the morning, after lunch, on the bench during a game, and on his ride home. At another point during the day, whenever he gets an urge, he dips once more.

“Half the time I do it, I don’t have a real reason to,” Susac said. “It’s part of the game, I feel like. You come to the field, get bored or whatever, and just throw in a dip.”

One of the San Francisco County Supervisors who passed the ordinance, Mark Farrell, said he has actually seen youth coaches chewing tobacco in front of players.

From the article:

Mark Farrell, the member of the Board of Supervisors who sponsored the ordinance, started using tobacco while he played college baseball at Loyola Marymount. In his freshman year, he said, he was one of only two players on the team who did not. He kept the habit through law school and has since quit. But now, raising two boys, he has seen youth coaches using tobacco in front of children.

“This almost becomes a self-enforcing mechanism, just by passing this,” Farrell said. “Coaches don’t want to be out on our park fields proactively breaking the law in front of parents. Players don’t want to be on the field, on television, blatantly breaking the law.”

The Merchants of Doubt film … and Big Tobacco’s role in pushing fire retardant chemicals


merchants of doubt film

Finally got around to watching the Merchants of Doubt documentary, based on the book with the same name.  The Merchants of Doubt looks at how certain industries used public relations techniques to put doubt in people’s minds about the dangers of their products. This approach began with Big Tobacco fighting the overwhelming evidence that cigarettes cause lung cancer through a vigorous PR campaign revolving around “more science needs to be done.” Big Tobacco put enough doubt in people’s minds that smoking rates barely dropped for 20-30 years after the Surgeon General’s 1964 Report unequivocally stating that cigarettes did in fact cause lung cancer. And millions died from smoking during those years.

merchants of doubt card

That technique of creating doubt was picked up by various other industries over the decades and today the oil industry is very much playing by the same playbook and has been frustratingly successful in creating doubt around the science that man is causing global warming. The movie starts with a very clever interview with a professional magician explaining that his job is deflection and explaining how the old “Three Card Monty” con doesn’t work without shills hidden within the public. “The whole con is about convincing the public that the shill is legitimate and independent,” says the magician, Jamey Ian Swiss.

From Stanton Glantz in the film: “The playbook Big Tobacco developed to attack science worked for 50 years. Other businesses looked at this and said, ‘boy, if this works for tobacco, we ought to be able to use that, too.'”

Stanton Glantz talk show
Morton Downey Jr. lights up after telling Stanton Glantz he looks great at 55 and he smokes four packs a day. Downey died of lung cancer 13 years later.

Glantz is interviewed extensively in the film. I realized that though this is a very familiar name in tobacco control circles, it was the first time I knew what he looked like and sounded like in interviews. Glantz was one of the first scientists to promote smoking bans and to talk about the dangers of secondhand smoke. He has been viciously attacked for decades for promoting tobacco control and smoking bans. I’ve personally seen trolls call him an awful, evil person.

“We spent a lot of time banging our heads against the wall (on tobacco control). These guys are rich, politically powerful … and they’re mean.”

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Peter Sparber … I dunno why this guy totally creeps me out.

Sure enough the movie shows a segment with Glantz on some talk show with some obnoxious host boasting to him that he smokes four packs a day and looks healthier and younger than Glantz at 42. I sure wondered who that obnoxious talk show host. It took one quick Google search to find out it was Morton Downey Jr. I actually vaguely remember the name, but I would have never figured out that was Morton Downey Jr. without resorting to Google. He was some right-wing talk show host in the 1980s whose show kind of ushered in “hate TV” shows like Jerry Springer.

I did some research. Yup. Mr. “I smoke four packs a day and I look great at 55” died of lung cancer. At the age of 68. Downey actually spoke out against cigarettes toward the end of his life and once filed a lawsuit against Howard Stern for insinuating that he was back smoking after quitting.

Anyway, I digress. There’s one major difference between the film and the book — a 10- to 15-minute segment in the film about tobacco’s role in pushing for fire retardants. This isn’t included at all in the book, but it was a fascinating part of the movie — and something I had never heard before.

In an investigative series done by the Chicago Tribune, reporters with the paper discovered that pounds of fire retardant chemicals being applied to furniture were showing up in household environments — and that studies had shown that these chemicals were both carcinogenic and didn’t really accomplish anything. They asked the question why were the chemicals even being applied if research showed they didn’t work.

The answer: Big Tobacco believe it or not. In the 1970s, thousands of people were being killed in fires caused by cigarettes — by people falling asleep in bed or on chairs while smoking. The tobacco industry was being pressured to develop a self-extinguishing cigarette, something that would have been expensive to develop. “What they (the industry) needed was a scapegoat and their scapegoat was furniture.”

Unbelievably, the vice president of the old Tobacco Institute (a lobbying arm of the tobacco industry, long since disbanded), Peter Sparber, infiltrated a national firefighters’ organization called the National Association of State Fire Marshals and then convinced that group to let him become its legislative representative. In that role, Sparber (a truly weird-looking dude with a porn stache) pushed for laws requiring fire retardant chemicals in furniture. The fire marshals’ group thought Sparber was working for them for free. Instead, the whole time, he was being paid $200 an hour by Big Tobacco.

There’s an infamous quote attributed to Sparber: “If you can ‘do’ tobacco, you can do just about anything in public relations.” Sparber now works for the Heartland Institute, a right-wing anti-global warming think tank. So, he is still in the thick of deflection and creating doubt to this day.

Anyway, it’s a solid documentary that will both entertain you and make you mad. It’s a solid addendum to the book for all the extra tidbits.


Beijing ban on smoking working … mostly

BEIJING, CHINA-AUGUST 14 :A Chinese woman smokes a cigarette inside a disco in Beijing's Sanlitun night club district which are packed with foreigners in town to enjoy the Olympics, on August 14, 2008 in Beijing, China. The well known Sanlitun area has been cleaned up prior to the Olympic games and thrives with young people looking for a party.  (Photo Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA-AUGUST 14 :A Chinese woman smokes a cigarette inside a disco in Beijing’s Sanlitun night club district which are packed with foreigners in town to enjoy the Olympics, on August 14, 2008 in Beijing, China. The well known Sanlitun area has been cleaned up prior to the Olympic games and thrives with young people looking for a party. (Photo Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

Here is a story from (first time I’ve used a story from this site) about Beijing’s (latest) two-month-old indoor smoking ban.

China is notoriously lax about enforcing any sort of environmental or public-health laws (this is why you don’t want to buy dog treats made in China), but according to this article, Beijing is serious about cracking down on smoking in bars, clubs and restaurants. It is a $32 fine for smokers and up to a $1,600 fine for businesses that allow it. After two months, the city has collected $16,000 in fines.


Beijing has actually attempted a smoking ban, but dropped it. And several other cities in China have had unsuccessful smoking bans. From the story:

The ban’s early success — one month after it began, the Beijing Association on Tobacco Control described the short-term results as “satisfactory” — is noteworthy. Environmental or health-friendly policies are often introduced to great fanfare in China, usually accompanied by amiable mantras like “Healthy City,” only to quietly fade due to lack of political will or commercial incentive.

When it comes to smoking, Chinese cities have mostlyproven willing to stub out only while international audiences are watching. What starts as erratic enforcement soon peters out, and the country light back up as soon as the world turns away. Take Guangzhou, the capital of southern Guangdong, whichexperimented with an ill-fated smoking crackdown in 2010, and has been doing so on-and-off, and without success, since 1995. Then there’s financial capital Shanghai, which made a similarly short-lived effortprior to its World Expo in 2010, themed “Better Life, Better City.” Beijing has also tried, with at least one half-hearted effort targeting large restaurants during the 2008 Olympics. That effectively ended when the foreign press went home.

The writer, based in Beijing, adds that he has personally witnessed a decrease in indoor smoking, including tobacco “fiends” standing outside a 24-hour club notorious for its “anything goes atmosphere.” The author stated that smoking was so ubiquitous in China as recently as 2009 — seeing smoking in hospital rooms, etc. — that he didn’t believe it would be possible for any smoking ban to have an effect.

Beijing may be taking steps to reduce smoking, but the city still struggles with its infamous horrendous smog. The smog may be one reason the capital has finally decided to become serious about a smoking ban, but at the same time, it is a small step in making Beijing a more healthy place.

From the article:

But what may prove more effective than the threat of a financial penalty is the growing realization that Beijing, already fending off notorious pollution, can no longer afford to carry the public-health burden of a citywide smoking habit as well.

… Smoking may eventually come to be viewed as an oddly indulgent habit in a city whose air is already persistently hostile to one’s health. Indeed, an unusual spate of recent thunderstorms, coupled with low winds, has left a spectral gloom over the city this summer, a reminder of greater problems yet to be resolved. In this clammy atmosphere, young commuters, lining up at bus stops, seem to cough, hawk, and grumble like terminal smokers. The capital may be ready to finally give up its favorite bad habit, but it has plenty of others still to kick.