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

State high court upholds $1,000 fines on ‘faithless electors’

They signed pledges to back their party’s nominee, Clinton, in 2016, but then voted for Colin Powell.

Pow! Bam! Inslee delivers a one-two punch of executive power

Governor shifted $175M to culverts and vetoed a sentence he said threatened funding for transit.

Self-driving cars: Heaven or hell?

Depending on factors, traffic and environmental impacts could become better or worse.

King County’s $5 million derelict boat problem

When a boat sinks, it costs a lot to bring it up, with millions being spent since 2003 on removals.

Ashley Hiruko/illustration
Susan’s quest for ‘justice’ and the civil legal system dilemma

While citizens have the right to an attorney in criminal cases, they’re not afforded the same rights in civil litigation.

Upon further review, EPA wants to redo water quality rules

Feds say they’ll use what the state submitted in 2016 even though they’re no longer the state’s faves.

King County Councilman Reagan Dunn sent a letter to the FBI asking for them to help investigate Allan Thomas (pictured), who is under investigation for stealing more than $400,000 of public funds and skirting election laws in an Enumclaw drainage district. Screenshot from King 5 report
King County Council requests report on special districts in wake of fraud allegations

Small, local special districts will face more scrutiny following Enumclaw drainage district case.

The Marquee on Meeker Apartments, 2030 W. Meeker St. in Kent, will feature 492 apartments and 12,000 square feet of retail. The first phase of 288 apartments is expected to be completed in early 2020. Developers are targeting people in their 20s and 30s to rent their high-end, urban-style apartments. Steve Hunter/staff photo
Housing study pokes holes in conventional wisdom

High construction and land costs will incentivize developers to build luxury units.

File photo
Eviction reform passed by state Legislature

Tenant protections included longer notices and more judicial discretion.

Most Read