CITY HALL — A City Council committee moved Friday to "nip the dip" and ban the use of smokeless tobacco at sporting events — including Major League Baseball players at Wrigley Field and White Sox Park.
In fact, lead sponsor Ald. Edward Burke (14th), chairman of the Finance Committee that passed the measure, said it was specifically intended to deter young people "from mimicking their sports heroes and using smokeless tobacco."
Although tobacco use has declined in society and in baseball over the decades, the bulge of "chaw" in a cheek has been a baseball signature going back to 1959 White Sox Most Valuable Player Nellie Fox and well beyond.
Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) testified that, while a baseball player at the University of Illinois, he'd wrap chewing tobacco in a wad of gum.
"What we did is what we saw," he said, "and that's what we did."
Citing his own father's death from lung cancer, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) joined the call to "knock tobacco out of the park."
"I have used every angle you can think of to get tobacco banned from Major League Baseball," Durbin testified. "A lot of kids are watching these baseball players and trying to do everything they do."
Durbin pointed to how big-league cities Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston had already passed similar bans, although they only take effect for big-league players this season.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), whose ward includes Wrigley Field, wondered about the "enforcement mechanism."
"I don't know," Durbin conceded. "It's a good question, as to how it will be enforced." He suggested sports reporters and peer pressure from other players could discourage the practice.
The ordinance, however, refers to all sporting events, including "professional, collegiate, high school or organized amateur sporting events," and applies to participants and spectators. Fines would be $100-$250 on first offense.
The American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network applauded committee's passage of the plan.
"The City Council’s proposal to make all stadiums and sports recreational facilities in Chicago tobacco-free could save thousands of young people from a lifetime of addiction to this deadly product," spokeswoman Nico Probst said. "Prohibiting the use of all tobacco products at these facilities will help eliminate the powerful role-model effect on youth who often mimic the behavior of their favorite players, even when that behavior is potentially deadly."
Tunney's White Sox counterpart, Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th), said he had received a letter of support from Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Burke presented a letter from Major League Baseball citing how smokeless tobacco is banned in the minor leagues and stating: "We support the spirit of your efforts."
The ordinance heads to the full City Council on Wednesday for final approval.
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