Here is a link to my Tuesday column about smokeless tobacco in the big leagues. The full text runs below:

I am against banning smokeless tobacco in the big leagues.

Before I get to my reasons, here’s the background. As you know, Tony Gwynn died last week. Gwynn was a gentleman, a good guy, a stand-up guy, a perfect ambassador for baseball and for human beings in general. And he was among the greatest hitters who ever lived. He died from mouth cancer and he probably got cancer because he chewed tobacco.

He was 54 when he died, way too young. It makes you sad for him and angry at chewing tobacco and dip. Dip is different from leaf tobacco. It is ground up and players insert it under their lower lips. But dip does the same thing as leaf chewing tobacco. It gives players the feeling they want and it can cause cancer in the mouth area. No question: dip and chewing tobacco are bad for you.

Since Gwynn died, many columnists have written articles calling for Major League Baseball to ban leaf tobacco and dip. Other well-meaning folks also have called for a smokeless tobacco ban in the majors. FYI, leaf tobacco and dip already are banned in the minors, but the Major League Baseball Players Association has not agreed to a ban. A ban is a matter of collective bargaining .

Major League Baseball tries hard to educate players against smokeless tobacco. Use of the junky stuff is decreasing. And that’s important. And that’s good. There should be even more education.

And restrictions of smokeless tobacco already exist in the majors. Teams do not provide smokeless tobacco in clubhouses, although teams provide plenty of free bubblegum for players. Players cannot put pouches or tins of smokeless tobacco in the pants pockets of their uniforms when fans are in the stadium or when they are in front of TV cameras. Players cannot chew tobacco during TV interviews. Somehow, I don’t think players always honor these restrictions.

People who argue for a ban use several arguments. Smokeless tobacco is harmful to a user’s health. It is disgusting. It presents a bad image for baseball. Big leaguers are role models for teenagers, and smokeless tobacco users are bad role models. There are probably other compelling arguments I have not mentioned.

I agree with every single argument against smokeless tobacco, but I passionately oppose banning it in the big leagues. I do not smoke tobacco and I do not chew or dip. Never have. This is not a tobacco issue. This is a freedom issue.

I do not like people, even well-meaning people, to infringe on my exercise of free choice. I don’t like people telling me what to do. Plenty of people out there love to tell us how to act. They have our best interests at heart. That’s what they say. Well, get this, I decide what’s in my best interest, thank you.

When Michael Bloomberg was mayor of New York, he tried to pass a law banning sale of sweet soft drinks of more than 16 ounces in restaurants and fast-food joints. His heart was in the right place. His brain wasn’t. Two courts have struck down his law, although the case is still pending.

If I were a New Yorker, I would have told Bloomberg to keep his hands off my big Coke.

I understand baseball banning steroids, human growth hormone and other prescriptions drugs. Getting them without prescriptions is against the law. I believe lots of players — you know who — broke the law to hit home runs.

Smokeless tobacco is not against the law. I seriously object to someone — sports writers, the baseball commissioner — telling me I can’t use something that’s legal.

I understand laws against smoking in restaurants and bars and the workplace. Second-hand smoke harms people near me. To the best of my knowledge, smokeless tobacco does not hurt people near the user. It may disgust them, but it doesn’t hurt them.

And now I’m going to write something hard. People who want to ban smokeless tobacco, the well-meaning banners, are condescending to grown men, acting as if these men are morons. Excuse me, but Tony Gwynn knew what he was doing, knew the risks he took when he chewed. It was his free choice. It also was his free choice to advocate against spit tobacco after he retired.

Dusty Baker knew the risks. It troubled me when he would stick a wad in his mouth — I like him so much.

And smokeless tobacco is not limited to baseball. It’s all over the NFL. Jim Harbaugh knows what he’s doing when he dips. Jim Tomsula knows what he’s doing. Joe Staley knows what he’s doing. I could go on.

Do I wish they’d all stop?

Of course, I do.

Would I order them to stop?

It’s not my business.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.


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  1. Jeff Fletcher

    It’s about protecting an image.

    Have you ever walked into a bank and seen a teller with a big dip in his mouth and a cup of spit next to him?

    Or even seen a teller wearing a ratty T shirt? Or ever had a restaurant host tell you to “shut up and sit down!”

    Lots of legal behaviors are rightly banned by private businesses because they are trying to project an image, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    June 24th, 2014 8:25 am

  2. CohnZohn

    Jeff Fletcher, I agree with everything you wrote. Still, the issue of banning smokeless tobacco in the big leagues came up recently because Tony Gwynn died. People are debating it specifically as a health issue (see John Shea and Scott Ostler) and not as a baseball image issue. If an employer wants to enforce an image, I say fine. But if well-meaners want to say they are protecting my health or a ballplayer’s health, I will argue against them. I protect my own health. So, I don’t think we are disagreeing. Also, I have had restaurant hosts tell me to shut up and sit down. I think you were with me about a thousand times when it happened. Note to readers: Jeff Fletcher used to cover baseball for the Press Democrat and now covers the Angels for the Orange Country Register. He easily ranks in the top five best friends I’ve ever made in my career in journalism which covers 35 years.

    June 24th, 2014 9:28 am

  3. Dr Feelgood

    Cigarettes are not outlawed, but are banned in specific locations; airliners, restaurants, etc.
    MLB and MLBPA can negotiate rules prohibiting smokeless tobacco in the defined “workplace”.
    What’s wrong with that?

    June 24th, 2014 11:38 am

  4. Russell

    Careful there Lowell-San, most of us that share this belief system tend to get called all sorts of mean names, and our sanity is often called into question. Supporting ones individual freedoms and personal decisions can be a skin-thickening experience now days.

    June 24th, 2014 11:51 am

  5. David

    Batting helmets are mandatory, aren’t they required in order to protect a players health? How do you feel about mandatory seat belt laws or mandatory helmet laws for motorcycle riders?

    June 24th, 2014 11:51 am

  6. Bob In Portland

    It sounds like a collective bargaining issue. Maybe the union will give it up for expanding the rosters to 26 players.

    June 24th, 2014 12:41 pm

  7. Tom T Thompson III, PhD

    Not to put words in your mouth, but you seem to imply that your opposition to steroids (and the players who use them) is rooted primarily in their illegality. So if they were to become legal, would you be okay with players using them?

    June 24th, 2014 2:00 pm

  8. chris

    have to say who cares about personal freedoms in this situation…….that stuff kills and its a no brainer that it should be banned by the MLB institution because so many are using it on a daily basis while on the job. If the MLB members want to use it or booze or pot or whatever away from the ballpark, that’s their business. I’m totally bummed Tony Gwynn checked out because of that stuff at such a young age, and hope Selig does something about it.

    June 24th, 2014 3:32 pm

  9. Albert Park

    Lowell-san is right on. I too am sick of all the self-rightous do-gooders trying to run my life for me. I’m a big boy; I can make my own decisions.

    June 24th, 2014 10:47 pm

  10. Brady

    While I understand where you’re coming from, you argument is based on a false premise:

    “I seriously object to someone — sports writers, the baseball commissioner — telling me I can’t use something that’s legal.”

    By this reasoning, McDonalds workers should be able to consume alcohol while working (assuming they’re 21); you should be able to work at the PD offices naked (it’s not a public space!); and Donald Sterling should not be at all punished by the NBA for exercising his right of free speech.

    MLB is a company. This is emphatically NOT an issue of freedom. There are things that you are free to do that you cannot do at the PD: you can’t hold up your middle fingers for your column photo, or sleep at the office, or get hammered on company property, or poop on the floor. You can do those things in your own home – you have the freedom to do so – but not at your office.

    A baseball park is a baseball player’s office. MLB is a baseball player’s boss. Most bosses do not allow practices that A) actively hurt their employees, and B) actively set bad examples for the clientele of the company.

    There would be nothing wrong with a ban, and it is in no way an infringement of privacy.

    June 26th, 2014 2:34 pm

  11. Dave T

    Well said and could not agree more. More and more people, groups, factions, politicians, etc, are trying to decide not only what is or is not good for a person, but whether or not they get to have to the choice of whether or not to take such action. And that aspect moves us ever closer to a police state which makes me very uncomfortable. So let’s look at some things objectively here:

    1. Smoking- It is legal for one to do so, but some resrictions on the places. If you look closely, those places have less air circulation and ventialtion, thereby placing those who choose not to do so at risk. Do I wish all smokers would stop? Sure do, both my parents smoked and are now gone, partly due to their habbit, but I also understand it is a choice. And I admit, I do like a good cigar.

    2. Bicycle and Motorcycle helmets- I would not be caught without a “brain bucket” personally and I know many riders who agree, but I aso don’t like the legal system mandating them to do so. Seatlbelts are along the same vein. the challenge is that adults “know better” and will generally make better choices, but it is too hard to differentiate between adults and minors so they have made blanket laws. Still makes sense in most ways, but I agree, they took away the freedom of choice.

    If they bargain to ban it from teh major leagues, that is to be between the Players and the Owners, but I honestly do not see it happening and there are far more important things to be concerned with concerning player safety within the confines of the game as opposed to a choice being made by a player.

    I am sorry Tony Gwynn is gone. He was truly a great player and an even greater person and will be missed. And I am sure his story will help keep more people away from making the same choice he did. But in the end, it is still just that, a choice. And in this country, that is a freedom we are alotted and hold most dear.

    June 26th, 2014 3:07 pm

  12. David

    Alcohol is legal, why can’t players drink in the dugout or on the field? Players used to smoke in the dugouts, why and how was that practice stopped?

    June 26th, 2014 4:17 pm

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