WASHINGTON • Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a leading anti-tobacco campaigner on Capitol Hill, is using the occasion of the World Series to renew his request for baseball players to stop dipping and chewing in front of fans.
Durbin and three other Democratic senators asked the Major League Baseball Players Association to prohibit use all tobacco products on the field, in the dugout and even in locker rooms at Major League Baseball parks.
"Tomorrow night, an expected 15 million viewers, including many children, will tune in to watch the first game of the series. Unfortunately, as these young fans root for their favorite team and players, they also will watch their on-field heroes use smokeless tobacco products," the senators wrote.
Durbin asked the players association to agree to the tobacco ban during the next negotiations with owners when the collective bargaining agreement expires in December.
"This would send a strong message to young baseball fans, who look toward the players as role models, that tobacco use is not essential to the sport of baseball," they wrote.
Durbin was joined in the request by Sens. Frank Lautenberg, of New Jersey, Tom Harkin, of Iowa, and Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut.
Their letter cited statistics from 2009 showing that the use of smokeles tobacco had increased by more than one-third among high school boys in a six-year period and that 15 percent of the boys admitted using.
"Tobacco companies spend millions on advertisements tailored to attract young people to use tobacco products," the senators wrote today. "Major League ballplayers who use smokeless tobacco at games are providing a celebrity endorsement for these products, encouraging many young people to try smokeless tobacco."
As teams prepared for spring training last February, Durbin and Lautenberg asked baseball commissioner Bud Selig to consider a ban on tobacco when owners gathered for their winter meeting after this season. The senators noted that tobacco had been banned at the minor league level since the early 1990s.
Selig, responding this spring to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said that Major League Baseball shared the concerns about tobacco use, advises players of the dangers and offers programs on quitting.
"I personally believe that smokeless tobacco should be banned at the major league level, but that is a subject that we are required to bargain over with the Major League Baseball Players Association," Selig wrote.
The players association, in a letter to Durbin earlier this year, said it has tried to educate members about "the realities and consequences" of tobacco use.
Without being commital, the association's executive director, Michael Weiner, wrote that the concerns of Congress "will be given a full airing" in the players' union.
Durbin, an East St. Louis native whose father died of smoking-related illness, engineered the ban on smoking on airplanes early in his congressional career. He has been in the forefront of the effort to give the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco as a health hazard.