Photo by Josh Kelety

Photo by Josh Kelety

King County Bans Chewing Tobacco in Sports Stadiums

Advocates say the ban will keep youth athletes from using dip.

The King County Board of Health unanimously approved an ordinance on April 19 that bans consumption of smokeless tobacco from the county’s three major sports arenas—Safeco Field, CenturyLink Field, and KeyArena—in an effort to reduce tobacco use among youth.

The ban covers not only spectators, but also professional players and staff in locker rooms, dugouts, and on the field. The county’s public health department will be enforcing the ban with financial penalties.

Pushed heavily by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a nationwide anti-tobacco initiative, supporters framed the bill as a way to both help eradicate smokeless tobacco from baseball culture and limit youth athletes exposure to products like chewing tobacco in professional sports.

“For too long we have witnessed the impact on our nation’s youth of the use of smokeless tobacco by Major League Baseball players,” said Annie Tegen, regional advocacy director for the Seattle branch of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, prior to the board’s vote. “They’re damaging their health with an addictive product that causes cancer and other serious diseases. And by serving as role models to youth throughout King County and the country, they’re endangering the well-being of millions of kids who look up to them and copy their every move.”

Tegen added that while smoking rates among youth have fallen over the last 15 years, smokeless tobacco consumption has remained steady—particularly amongst male high school athletes. (County public health officials who spoke prior to the vote presented similar statistics.)

Max Harrison, one of many children with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids who attended the vote, said during public comment that he wants to see chewing tobacco out of professional baseball, and argued that it is harmfully embedded in the sport’s culture. “Even though we aren’t old enough to buy chewing tobacco, we can buy this,” the 9-year-old said, holding up a bag of Big League Chew gum. “It is gum, but it is supposed to look like chewing tobacco.”

The ordinance also has the endorsement of the Seattle Mariners team management. “It’s something that we’re very supportive of,” said Rebecca Hale, a Mariners spokesperson, in a phone interview.

Policies limiting smokeless tobacco consumption adopted by 14 other cities around the country and Major League Baseball are also in line with the county’s ordinance. In the 1990s, chewing tobacco was banned from Minor League Baseball, and big league officials have regularly sought to include a league-wide smokeless tobacco ban in baseball collective bargaining agreements, but have been met with resistance from the players’ union. In 2016, both the Major League Baseball Players Association and Major League Baseball agreed to ban new players from using smokeless tobacco, while players with more than a day of service were exempt.

“It hasn’t been able to work it’s way up to the major league level yet,” said Hale.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has also voiced his support for limiting smokeless tobacco consumption.

Some in the smoke products industry report that smokeless tobacco sales are still strong. Aman Dhakal, 32, a cashier at Pioneer Smoke Shop near Safeco Field, said that chewing tobacco sales haven’t declined significantly in the three years that he has been working at the store.

Seattle Weekly spoke to a collection of Mariners fans headed to the April 19 day game against the Houston Astros, and their reaction to the ban seemed mixed.

Maria Chavez, 23, said that youth are already inundated with anti-smoking messaging, and that, ultimately, players have the right to consume tobacco if they choose. “Everyone has a choice, so let them do what they want.”

Conversely, Mike Salzberg, 54, who was smoking a cigar on his way to Safeco Field, said that players are role models and should set an example. “They’re examples. They get paid a lot of money, and they’re setting the example for 20,000 people today, and so I think they can do without [chewing tobacco].”

jkelety@seattleweekly.com

More in News & Comment

Rhino riggers protest outside of the Jay-Z and Beyonce show outside of Seattle’s CenturyLink Field on Oct. 4, 2018. Photo courtesy of IATSE
The Backstage Blues: Riggers Complain of Unfair Labor Practices

Theatrical stage employees come for the music and stay for the thrill. But at what price?

The Seattle City Council voted in favor of the police union’s contract. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
City Council Approves Controversial Police Contract

Despite strong opposition, the majority of councilmembers ratified the agreement.

Rat City Roller Girls Ready to Rumble in 15th Season

New jammers and blockers make debut Nov. 17 at Debutante Brawl

Seattle police car. Photo by Dmitri Fedortchenko, Flickr Creative Commons.
Community Groups and Seattle Police Chief Weigh in On Police Contract

Seven of nine councilmembers will need to pass the agreement to ratify it. What will they decide?

Citizens gather for an interfaith candlelight vigil Nov. 1 at the Snohomish County Courthouse to honor the 11 victims of an attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Photo courtesy of The Herald.
Issaquah Company Hosts Gab, Social Media Favorite of the Far-Right

Website was pulled by GoDaddy after Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.

The team that advocated for I-1631 at downtown Seattle’s Arctic Club on Nov. 6, 2018. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Washington Rejects Carbon Fee

Campaign organizers say they will continue pushing for a cleaner future.

The race for Washington’s 8th Congressional District is between Kim Schrier (D) and Dino Rossi (R). File photo
Schrier Leads Rossi in Hotly-Contested 8th Congressional District

Candidates compete for seat vacated by Republican Dave Reichert

The race for Washington’s 9th Congressional District is between two Democrats, incumbent Adam Smith (left) and political newcomer Sarah Smith. File photo
Congressman Adam Smith Leads Re-Election Bid for WA’s 9th District

The district spans from Bellevue and south Seattle down through Renton, Tukwila, Kent, Federal Way and Tacoma

Most Read