Houston City Council Could Ban MLB Players From Chewing Tobacco At Minute Maid Park

It might be time for a new big-league chew at Minute Maid Park.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the Houston City Council is considering a vote to ban all smokeless tobacco products from all Major League Baseball teams — including the Astros — and their subsequential personnel at Minute Maid Park.

The Houston council faces a vote to prohibit “any person employed by a professional baseball team or league” at Minute Maid Park — including in dugouts, training rooms and locker rooms — from using smokeless tobacco.

The ban isn't a punishment toward professional athletes or support staff of baseball teams but rather aimed at trying to prevent the younger generation from getting started on any tobacco products.

“We’re not trying to be punitive; it’s really just a warning,” said Houston Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen, who chairs the Quality of Life Committee. “We don’t want to punish baseball players. We really don’t. We just want them to think about it, where they might say to themselves, ‘I’m not going to be chewing this when I walk out and sign autographs.’”

The ban would not extend beyond the fence lines and into the stands, but a non-smoking ban would still be intact, per city ordinance.

Cities are allowed to regulate tobacco use in major league ballparks under terms of a collective bargaining agreement between team owners and players agreed upon in 2016, which expires in December 2021. The ban also states that players can't use tobacco products when giving interviews.

At least half of the stadiums in the MLB prohibit smokeless tobacco. Houston would be the first in Texas, as the players are still permitted to use it at Globe Life Park, home of the Texas Rangers, in Arlington. But with one more year in their current home and a new stadium with a retractable roof on the way — and city money on the line — the North Texas team could be next.

Should Houston lawmakers pass the anti-chewing tobacco proposal, any violation would peak at $2,000, and law enforcement officers issuing citations would be under rule to not interrupt games.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a former state legislator who became notorious for leading the city through the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, said he supports the proposal as it would send a message to the local youth.

“It will help limit the appeal of smokeless tobacco to our children by removing use of the product where young people look up to athletes and other adults as examples,” Turner said in a statement Thursday. “For now, high school athletes are more likely to use smokeless tobacco than their non-athlete peers.”

Astros owner Jim Crane and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred both support the measure taken by Turner and the Houston Council.

“Major League Baseball and the Houston Astros strongly believe that children should not use or be exposed to smokeless tobacco,” Crane wrote in a letter to Turner. “In that spirit, MLB and the Astros have long-supported a ban of smokeless tobacco at the Major League level.”

Completely banning tobacco products from MLB dugouts would eradicate a century-old custom among the top baseball players in the world.

Though the city legislation appears to have a majority before any pending vote, there are those on the council who oppose the proposition for one reason or another.

“It’s going to be very hard for you to get me to support this,” council member Dwight Boykin said. “My concern is if we start banning this ... because it will ultimately, whatever, cause cancer, what about the people who drink themselves? Are we going to start regulating the liquor store?”

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