Potential Chewing Tobacco Ban in MLB and its Relationship to Public Health

November 1, 2011

Political Theory


Throughout the recently completed MLB World Series, several U.S. senators spoke out about the tradition of chewing tobacco on the baseball diamond. Senators Dick Durbin, Frank Lautenberg, Richard Blumenthal and Senate Health Committee chairman Tom Harkin all signed a letter to the players of the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals asking them to agree to a ban of chewing tobacco for the World Series. In the past, public health officials have proposed that the MLB ban chewing tobacco from all games. These attempts to eliminate chewing tobacco from baseball have been met with much outrage from players and fans alike. Few high-standing government officials have ever backed Public Health Service efforts to eliminate “snuff” from baseball, so this response demonstrated by these senators is encouraging. The Department of Health and Human Services is concerned with player health as well as the impact these players’ actions have on others watching the game; children see their heroes chewing tobacco and health officials as well as many others worry that these kids will follow suit. In fact, the Center for Disease Control found that in 2009, 15% of high school boys used smokeless tobacco as compared to 11% in 2003; they claim that this figure is increasing still. With new found political support, however, the movement for a reduction of chewing tobacco use in the MLB may take hold and could have a trickle-down effect on younger generations. Currently, MLB commissioner Bud Selig is endorsing this ban on chewing tobacco to be part of the next MLB collective bargaining agreement. Many people believe that the health benefits that will be obtained by abstaining from chewing tobacco outweigh its tradition in baseball. My question to you is, should major league baseball ban the use of chewing tobacco?

Having strong political support for a controversial health policy is rare for the Public Health Service. Often, public health policies are contentious due to potential restrictions on individual liberty, economic interests, and politics in science. Lack of government support is in large part due to these controversial issues. Politicians frequently fail to implement public health policies because these health measures most likely won’t show their effects until about 20 years down the line: how would this help with politicians’ and society’s current situation? Many citizens and politicians want to see instant progress instead of future benefits. Also, the economic interests of many large companies, major lobbying powers, resist public health action by influencing government. These companies are often negatively impacted by public health policy, consider the tobacco industry for example, and therefore try to prevent enactment of public health policies. Finally, the politics of scientific research and how to apply findings to society also muddle the field of public health by hindering or preventing policies from being put in place. Individual or group interests often conflict with community interests. Many companies, groups, and individuals dispute or promote scientific findings in accordance with their own self-interests instead of looking at what is good for our community as a whole.

The general population also doesn’t fight for public health and without backing from the people, government is hesitant to implement health policies. This may be due to the “invisibility” of public health: when working public health works at its best, one cannot see the illnesses it prevents. People see public health as having abstract, deferred benefits with concrete, immediate costs: isn’t it easier to see the here and now rather than your potential health down the road? People view the laws and restrictions laid down by the Public Health Service to be a form of paternalism. By forcing people to wear seatbelts or be vaccinated before entering school, some citizens believe that public health is taking away their liberty. Though it may be restricting what we are allowed to do, public health serves to keep people from hurting others or hurting themselves.

People tend to believe that public health solely exists for disaster relief and health care for the poor. Mainly, however, public health aims to prevent poor health for the entire United States population. They strive to provide the “greatest good for the greatest number” similar to the utilitarian views of Jeremy Bentham. In fact, the goals of public health derive from utilitarian philosophy. Public health aims to maximize health and promote the common well-being of citizens. What is best for a community is determined by looking at what produces the best possible outcomes for the most people. Public health sums up individual welfare into population well-being. John Stuart Mill talks about a utilitarian society as a one that promotes happiness; through different measures and policies, public health tries to make the largest number of people as happy as possible by keeping them as healthy as possible.

Public health measures (vaccination, sanitation improvement, behavioral changes through policy) have been the reason for 25 years of increased life expectancy over the last century; improved and additional medical care has resulted in only a 5 year increase in life expectancy over the same time period. Today, however, we spend about $2.6 trillion per year on medical care as opposed to $50 billion per year on public health. Medical care ‘saves’ those who need rescuing on a more personal level. However, many times, the people who need saving could have prevented their poor health if public health had been more involved in communities. The lack of public health support and the disparity in medical care expenditures versus public health expenditures is astounding.Dr. Ken Warner (UM Public Health Professor) Powerpoint on Public Health Disparities

It seems, based on gains in life expectancy, that we should promote public health to a greater extent. However, do we actually want to do this when public health policies often force people to change their habits? Would altering the norms of peoples’ actions by promoting healthier behavior, like banning the more than 100 year tradition of chewing tobacco in baseball, be a change people are willing to make? Would a measure such as this make people happier? Cigarette bans were at one time considered absurd and over the top. Today, the battle still wages with motorcycle helmet laws. We strongly resist change in our world. So, do we actually want a utilitarian society when it comes to our health? Will we ever be able to have a public that is strongly in support of our utilitarian public health system? Can we actually get people to see future health benefits instead of focusing on the present?

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7 Comments on “Potential Chewing Tobacco Ban in MLB and its Relationship to Public Health”

  1. springsteen1 Says:

    This connects straight to the smoking ban on campus.

    The University’s campus-wide smoking ban, a complement to the recent statewide smoking initiative that banned cigarette and cigar use in workplaces and restaurants, took effect on July 1 of this year. The ban allows smoking only on sidewalks adjacent to public roads on campus and in the privacy of one’s own vehicle. People never listen. People don’t follow it, and they aren’t following it. As I type this, four people just walked by. Smoking cigarettes.

    This is a norm shift. It’s a psychological game. The ban seeks to transform smoking from a publicly accepted activity into something a little more taboo.

    I don’t know if we should ban these things in public places, universities, clubs, groups, organizations, or workplaces. But I know that it’s dangerous. And I know it’s annoying.

    Hobbes would tell people to shut the hell up, and leave the rest of them alone. In the state of nature, each man for himself, (not unlike a Buddhist philosophy in this way, though I’m sure the political theorists out there will have a fit with that one), He could also argue that due to the sense of purity in the state of nature, the ban is acceptable and people should not be able to smoke in such public areas. Hobbes views on this only pique my interest to note the paradox; interesting viewpoint there.

  2. goldman13 Says:

    Banning the use of tobacco in Major League Baseball crosses an extremely controversial line. Thus far, the United States has enacted laws that restrict tobacco use (cigarettes, snuff etc) for only a portion of the population (18 year olds and older). However, by banning the use of tobacco in the MLB, an entire group of people (who formerly could use tobacco) are all of a sudden being denied a liberty that the rest of the similarly-aged population still has.

    I understand the societal benefits of banning tobacco use in the MLB – children look up to these players, and seeing them chew “snuff” is undoubtedly a negative influence. However, a blanket ban would be impinging on basic civil liberties, and therefore should not be enacted.

    You raise some great questions, “do we actually want a utilitarian society when it comes to our health? Will we ever be able to have a public that is strongly in support of public health?” It seems absurd to me that, as a society, we have such strong disregard for our collective health. Of course, many public health measures have been taken, but without the support of the general population. Most people are apathetic and don’t take any initiative when it comes to societal health. We resist change that could potentially make our world a better place, but the fact that these alterations are being advocated for (by some) shows that we are making important strides in the right direction.

    Changes in society take a long time to take effect. We are moving slowly (but surely) in the direction of better public health; we just need to give it time. The fact that the MLB is even considering this ban is a beneficial thing, and whether or not it is passed, it indicated good things to come.

  3. Greg Kraus Says:

    Why should the MLB be able to tell a grown man that he does not have the right to throw in lip during a baseball game? In my opinion, this is a serious violation of human civil liberties. Although athletes are constantly being placed on a pedestal for all of our society to view and judge, they are still individuals that have the right to decide how they want to treat their bodies. Although it is unfortunate that some young people are exposed to these negative habits, it is not the responsibility of the players to be concerned with the health of their fans. The way that I see it, if an athlete wants to set a good example for his fans, he will take it upon himself to eliminate his bad habits. The league however, should have absolutely no say in these types of personal decisions. I would imagine that the players in the league who support the ban probably aren’t the ones who are using tobacco. From a larger perspective, I think that the issue of public health is not one that can be solved or fixed by authority. I believe that it is the responsibility of the individual to take care of his or her own health. Furthermore, I think that it is going to cause more bad than good as our society attempts to control our personal health more and more. The fact that the MLB is considering this ban is not a good thing, but a bad thing that violates human rights and puts an unnecessary amount of control on the players in the league.

  4. guysnick Says:

    I understand where these U.S. senators are coming from on the issue of potentially banning chewing tobacco in Major League Baseball. One, chewing tobacco poses a serious health risk to those who use it. And two (more importantly), youths who see professional athletes using chewing tobacco want to mirror their beloved sports idols. This could easily result in increased use of chewing tobacco in young kids. However, I do not think that either the government or the MLB has the right to ban the use of chewing tobacco on the baseball diamond. If a player wants to dip, let him do it. He is a grown man. He should understand the health risks of chewing tobacco on a daily basis. As a grown man, he should also understand how his actions influence the millions of young people who watch baseball all the time. If an MLB player does not want to abstain from chewing tobacco in an attempt to be an ambassador for public health, he shouldn’t have to. These senators and the MLB can encourage the players to be cognizant of how this practice influences the American youth population, but ultimately it comes down to what the players themselves want to do. Like I said, they are grown men. Neither the MLB nor the U.S. government has any right to disallow them from chewing tobacco. The players know the risks, both to their health and to how they are perceived as celebrity figures.

    You say that “the goals of public health derive from utilitarian philosophy.” I would agree with this statement. Public health systems are meant to enhance the overall “good” of the community’s well-being. Ideally, everyone would want everyone else to lead healthy lifestyles in order to maximize this overall good. However, I dot think that utilitarianism can be applied to this issue of whether or not the MLB should ban chewing tobacco. While public health systems seek an overall healthy community, people are free to live whatever lifestyle they choose. This is part of the human rights ideology and freedom of choice and expression. Neither the Public Health Service nor the MLB should be able to ban tobacco from baseball because doing so would be to strip professional baseball players of their right to do what they please with their health. Chewing tobacco is legal for everyone else over the age of eighteen. It should not be banned within the confines of baseball.

  5. madisonkraus Says:

    While I can see why people would be unhappy and against a ban on chewing tobacco in the MLB, I don’t believe it is an infringement on personal rights. Baseball players are paid millions of dollars to do what they love, and to represent the team and sport they play for. Even though their job is more extraordinary than your typical office worker, they still are paid employees working for a business. They are not forced to play major league baseball, and there are many aspiring athletes who would gladly take their place if they chose not to do so. If chewing tobacco during a game is more important to them than their job, they can quit. They don’t have to quit chewing in the life, just when they are doing their job in a public broadcasted setting. It’s perfectly reasonable for an organization to ban the use of a cancerous activity by their employees, especially in a job in which so many young people look up to the players. Baseball players are role models who should accept the responsibility of maintaining appropriate behavior on the field. During a game, a player is not just representing himself, but he is representing the team he plays for, the MLB organization, and the sport of baseball. As an individual, in an individual private setting he is free to do whatever healthy or unhealthy behavior he chooses, but if MLB takes a stance against chewing tobacco he is obligated to follow rules and regulations against it. In light of evidence of the negative consequences chewing tobacco causes, I believe it is entirely reasonable for it to be banned in the MLB, and if players don’t like it they try their luck at looking for another job that allows them to chew on the clock.

  6. bmjasper Says:

    You raise some interesting questions. I do believe that America ought to have a utilitarian society when it comes to public health. Having one would result in an increased lifespan, and perhaps even an increased quality of life. The drawbacks of promoting healthier behavior and banning unhealthy habits, such as chewing tobacco in the MLB, is that most people would say that that is going too far. These players have been “dipping” since they were playing ball in high school. As a baseball player myself, a lot of my players used smokeless tobacco during games. It gives that user a brief head high, buzzed feeling which also has been said to increase focus. Creating this ban would probably cause an uproar in the MLB because these players are so accustomed to using this form of tobacco and removing it from the game might negatively impact their performance. Furthermore, trying to ban it during the world series is a long-shot. Baseball is such a mental sport that doing anything to get these players out of their rhythm during the most important week of their careers would be preposterous. While I do think a ban would be a good idea, health-wise, I don’t see it happening in the big leagues.

  7. mrau188 Says:

    I mean there is nothing we can really do at this point as a civil society we are victims of whatever these specific lawmakers want to be in place. They have been given the power to be able to vote on things such as banning chewing tobacco in the world series, thank god that that did not pass. It is a part of baseball tradition and it would just be sad if something like that was taken out of the game. On the other hand the same thing happened here at the university of michigan with the banning of tobacco products to make this a smoke free campus. They did not consult the students at all before making this decision there was no vote it was just a bunch of high powered university thugs that pushed this legislation through to make the university a smoke free campus. This is not going to stop kids from using the product because if people are going to smoke they are going to smoke. Sure it makes it inconvenient for all of those asian cigarette smokers out there because now they have to walk across the street from the ugli to get their fix in. But in general we all need to be in support of something before it becomes the law that we are going to follow. This is what will make us have a civil society and makes it so that we will support the decisions that are then made in to laws that us in the general public have to follow.

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