NEW YORK — AT some point, spitting tobacco became linked with the mystique of baseball. Now, baseball officials from the major leagues to the Little League are trying to sever that relationship.
Last year, then-baseball commissioner Fay Vincent ordered a ban on the use of smokeless tobacco on the field in the Rookie League and the Single A League. "The goal is to end the use through attrition, but if it needs to be expanded and moved up, we may look at it," says Jim Small, a spokesman for the major leagues.
Anti-smokeless-tobacco advocates are also trying to reach Little Leaguers, since most users begin using such tobacco products between the ages of 11 and 13.
In February, Little League Baseball, along with health organizations, sent brochures aimed at youths in 26 states.
"It's our job to help them understand that using spitting tobacco is not `cool' but it's just plain dumb," wrote Creighton Hale, the president of the Little League in a letter to each local league secretary.
In order to make a real impact, however, the anti-tobacco advocates realize they need to get major league players to quit. "We are very concerned with the role modeling of major league players who are held up as the paragons of athletic virtue and are doing dangerous things with their health," says Mike Heron, senior vice president of the National Cancer Society in Atlanta.
The anti-tobacco groups see it as a tough fight. Smokeless tobacco use is growing as cigarette consumption declines. In a report last December, the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General, found that 20 percent of high school males said they used spitting tobacco in 1990 and 1991.
While working on an anti-smokeless-tobacco film aimed at major and minor-league players recently, Phillies trainer Jeff Cooper was given a case of complimentary chewing tobacco by a company that hoped the players would chew its brand. "It was 400 to 500 packets, all different flavors or strengths," says Neil Romano, who worked on the project as a consultant.