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by Kevin Coupe

This could be yet another example of the nanny state. Or it could end up having unforeseen implications for Major League Baseball.

Either way, it is fodder for an Eye-Opening conversation.

The Sacramento Bee reports that a bill has been introduced in the California State Legislature that would ban the use of all tobacco products at every baseball venue in the state. Now, there already are laws prohibiting smoking in all public places, but this would go farther by banning the use of smokeless tobacco ... including by baseball players on the field.

According to the story, the bill seems to have been prompted by the death last year at age 54 of Tony Gwynn, the iconic San Diego Padres player who suffered from salivary gland cancer, presumably caused by his use of chewing tobacco, commonly referred to as "dip." The Bee writes that "public health experts note that smokeless tobacco use has not declined as sharply as plummeting smoking rates," and supporters of the bill say that major league ballplayers ought to be setting a better example for young fans.

The Major League Baseball Players Association, the union representing major leaguers, has not yet commented on the proposed legislation.

The impact would, in some ways, be limited. The use of chewing tobacco is already banned in the minor leagues. So the bill would really only affect the players and coaches for five teams - the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants, the San Diego Padres, the Oakland Athletics and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Except that the impact could be a lot broader ... because it also would affect the visiting players who come to California to play any of its teams. If California players were able to get off the "dip," it could give them a home field advantage against visiting players who would be forced to play without the use of a product that they likely are addicted to. At the same time, it seems at least possible that it could put California teams at a disadvantage when negotiating with some free agents, who would prefer to play someplace where they can use "dip."

While I am assiduously anti-tobacco in any form, I have to admit that I am conflicted about this proposal. After all, chewing tobacco is a legal product ... and unlike the use of cigarettes, where second hand smoke can have a major health impact even on non-users, its use can't hurt anyone else. (Except for having to watch the whole chewing-and-spitting thing, which is just gross.)

I'll concede that the use of "dip" by major leaguers probably influences some young people to emulate them, and that a ban could save some lives. But I also think that parents have the primary responsibility for instilling some common sense in their kids, and I'm not sure that the government should be getting involved.

(A friend of mine yesterday suggested that this is one of those issues that might be better decided federally rather than on a state-by-state basis, but I'm not sure I agree with that, either. I think the last thing we need is the US Senate and House of Representatives debating issues like this; there must be more important things for them to do...)

On the other hand, this stuff is designed to addict people. Once they're addicted, it can kill them. And I have a problem with any product like that.

To me, this is an interesting case. A fascinating debate. It has both cultural and economic implications. And it is the very definition, in my mind, of an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: