CHICAGO (Reuters Life!) --- Two U.S. senators have urged the heads of Major League Baseball and the players union to ban the use of smokeless tobacco products on the field and in the dugout and the locker room.
A similar ban on chewing tobacco has been in place in baseball's minor leagues for decades. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, both Democrats, said it was time for the major leagues to follow suit.
"We now know conclusively that smokeless tobacco endangers the health of baseball players who use it, but it also affects millions of young people who watch baseball," Durbin and Lautenberg wrote in a letter to baseball commissioner Bud Selig, which was made available to news organizations on Tuesday.
In the letter, they cited a survey that found use of smokeless tobacco products by high school boys has increased by 36 percent since 2003.
"The use of smokeless tobacco by baseball players undermines the positive image of the sport and sends a dangerous message to young fans, who may be influenced by the players they look up to as role models," the senators wrote.
Baseball historians say smokeless tobacco gained a foothold in the sport in its earliest days because it was a way for players to keep their mouths from getting dry.
A 1988 study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, of 1109 members of major and minor league professional baseball teams found that 39 percent were using smokeless tobacco and most had started when they were teenagers.
In 1990, the league issued report on the hazards of smokeless tobacco and established programs to help players quit. But the league insists that any ban on the use of smokeless tobacco needs to be agreed with the players' union.
Last year, two Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Henry Waxman of California and Frank Pallone of New Jersey, called on baseball to prohibit players from using smokeless tobacco.
In a statement on Tuesday, Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball's executive vice president for labor relations, said use of smokeless tobacco "remains a significant concern to Major League Baseball."
He said the league has brought in experts to counsel players on the dangers posed by the products.
Image: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson