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Senators: Ban smokeless tobacco use in MLB

From NBC's Ken Strickland
Two Democratic senators are asking baseball commissioner Bud Selig to ban all tobacco use in the sport, specifically citing smokeless products.

Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey are suggesting that Selig push for a ban as part of the negotiations in the players' collective bargaining agreement later this year.

Major League Baseball banned tobacco use in its minor leagues in 1993, but still allows it in the big leagues. The senators say Major League Baseball "is undoubtedly complicit" in the increase its use with school-aged boys.

In a letter to Selig, Durbin and Lautenberg wrote, "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."

"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," they wrote

The senators say they were motivated to write the letter because of an recent newspaper article written by Washington Nationals pitcher Steven Strasburg. The pitcher said his initial use chewing tobacco stemmed from a desire to emulate pro baseball players.

Referencing a National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the senators say the use of smokeless tobacco products has increased 36% among high school boys since 2003, raising its use among all boys to 15%.

"While tobacco companies spend millions on ads tailored to attract young people to use tobacco products, MLB is undoubtedly complicit in attracting many young people to try smokeless tobacco after seeing their baseball heroes chew tobacco," they wrote.

The senators sent an identical letter to Baseball Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner.