The Orioles are the first visiting team to deal with Boston’s smokeless tobacco ban

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There’s an article in the Baltimore Sun today about how the Orioles are the first road team to face the smokeless tobacco ban in Boston when they face the Red Sox. As the article notes, San Francisco passed the first such law last year, it takes effect this season, and games in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles will have such bans this year as well. Next year it will be all of California.

We know the contours of the debate by now. The dangers of smokeless tobacco vs. personal freedom of adults to do otherwise legal things. But I still think there’s a part of the smokeless tobacco debate that some people are simply not getting. At least not fully. The Orioles players quoted in the article all say “yeah, we get it,” but there’s also a “but . . .” to it all. Like this:

“There’s a triple-bacon cheeseburger,” [Darren] O’Day said. “Do you really need that? No, you don’t, but the government’s not going to outlaw it.

“I get it,” O’Day said. “We get it. But as I said before, there’s some personal liberties that I just don’t think should be infringed upon. I don’t dip. I don’t smoke. I smoke a cigar once in a while. My dad lives in a community in Florida where you can’t smoke a cigar on your own back porch. To me, that just blows my mind.”

I’m against the soda bans and other regulations that reach into someone’s personal choices. Requiring information about calorie counts and whatever are fine as they’re just information, but the banning of otherwise legal conduct should not be done lightly. Let people have their triple cheeseburgers. Only when there is serious demonstrable harm to third parties, such as is the case with secondhand smoke, do actual bans make a ton of sense in my view.

But what O’Day and the others who say what he’s saying about smokeless tobacco are missing is that there is serious harm to third parties as a result of major league baseball players using smokeless tobacco: young baseball players. They absolutely emulate the use of big leaguers and use smokeless tobacco at rates far, far higher than other kids do.

“Think of the children” arguments almost always crumble upon looking at the data which shows that, rarely, do the things we worry about kids being exposed to actually harm kids. Video games, violent movies and things of that nature come to mind. We worry, but the actual threat is usually imaginary.

Not so with smokeless tobacco. Young players absolutely do it because they see big leaguers doing it. There is no other plausible explanation for the variation in rates of use between young ballplayers and other kids. Given that relationship, this isn’t a “ban the cheeseburgers” situation. No one is trying to save Darren O'Day or other ballplayers from themselves. They’re addressing an actually harmful thing.

If the major leaguers want to dip before and after the game, go for it. But taking it out of the ballparks is the right thing to do.

(h/t to DWolfe for the heads up)