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Smokeless tobacco ban proposed for Minnesota stadiums

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By  | jshipley@pioneerpress.com


Legislation has been introduced that, if passed, would ban the use of tobacco at the Twins’ Target Field and the St. Paul Saints’ CHS Field.

State Rep. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, introduced the legislation Monday morning.

“I grew up watching the Twins, and it seems like the right time to stop seeing players with a wad of chew in their mouths,” Freiberg said Monday afternoon.

The longtime use of smokeless tobacco among baseball players is a growing issue in major league baseball, especially since the death of Hall of Fame first baseman Tony Gwynn, who died of mouth cancer that he attributed to chewing tobacco in June 2014. He was 54.

Smokeless tobacco already has been banned in major league parks by city councils in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and New York, and a ban goes into effect in Chicago on June 1.

The California Legislature passed a statewide ban that goes into effect in December.

Freiberg’s legislation would prohibit the use of smokeless tobacco products at all professional sports stadiums in Minnesota. With only one week to go in this year’s legislative session and big spending issues unresolved, the smokeless tobacco ban faces long odds of passing this year.

“In general, Major League Baseball and the Twins are supportive of legislative efforts and any efforts to ban smokeless tobacco,” Twins president Dave St. Peter said. “It’s long been baseball’s position that it’s something we’d like to get out of our game.”

Smokeless tobacco has been banned in the minor leagues for 15 years, but in the majors the issue falls under the Collective Bargain Agreement between players and the league. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said this spring the issue could be part of the next CBA negotiations, something the Major League Baseball Players Association has fought.

The current CBA expires Dec. 1. Freiberg said the timing of his legislation is related to an expired hope that baseball and the players union would ban smokeless tobacco in bargaining. He said he knows passing his proposal after missing committee deadlines is “an uphill battle.”

One avenue would be adding his legislation as amendment to a “germane” bill already on its way to a vote, such as the tax bill related to the proposed Major League Soccer stadium in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood.

“It’s certainly possible,” he said. “Maybe lightning could strike. I am hopeful that if it does not pass, it will at least be useful in the CBA process with the union.”

MLBPA chief Tony Clark told the Pioneer Press in March that it’s up to players to make that decision, adding that it supports curbing the use of “dip” or “chew.”

“We’ve created options for guys who are looking to stop dipping or chewing with a formal cessation program we’ve never had before, and we continue to educate guys on the issues related to tobacco use,” Clark said. “Our focus continues to remain, while not breaking any of the local and state laws, on providing education and support for the guys so they can make the decisions that are best for them and their families.”

Under the current laws where smokeless tobacco is banned, players can use it in the clubhouse but must stop when they enter the dugout. Already, baseball has banned players from carrying smokeless tobacco onto the field in their back pockets, and discourages them from chewing when conspicuously on television, such as during at at-bat.

Saints executive vice president Tom Whaley said neither the team nor the independent American Association has a policy regarding tobacco use by players.

“Right now just going to see what happens with the Legislature and see where it goes,” he said. “If it becomes a state law, we’ll comply with it.”

The Saints, who open their season Thursday night at CHS Field in Lowertown, have few players who use it, Whaley added. “So even if it does come to pass, it’s not going to have any big ripple effect on this year’s team.”

John has been a reporter and editor with the Pioneer Press since 2001, covering everything from major league baseball to the Winter Olympics — including stints as beat writer for the Twins, Wild and Minnesota Gophers football team. A California native and Chicago-area high school graduate, he previously was a reporter and editor at the Cedar Rapids Gazette and Des Moines Register and is a graduate of the University of Iowa.

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