Officials Seek to Snuff Out Tobacco in Major Leagues

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Chewing tobacco is a baseball tradition. The substance is used by almost a third of all Major League Baseball players.

Consequently, as millions of young fans root for their favorite team, they will also see many players who have become their heroes with a cheek full of tobacco.

The influence these baseball players have is powerful.

Aware of this grim reality, four U.S senators are teaming up with health officials to try to ban chewing tobacco in the major leagues.

They say the players are basically offering a celebrity endorsement anytime the camera catches them chewing.

"A lot of the younger guys just look at them and say, 'Oh, that's what he does; that's what I'm going to do,' and it becomes something that's logged in their minds from a very young age," high school baseball player Matt Matthews said.

The number of teenage boys using smokeless tobacco is up by more than 36 percent.

Health officials worry that while the Major League players may be aware of the risks of chewing, some of the boys following their examples may not be.

Gruen von Behrens knows the reality of chewing tobacco all too well. His face is disfigured after more than 30 surgeries for oral cancer.

"I want my viewers to be able to look at my face and hear my words and my story so they can understand what I've been through," Von Behrens told Congress last year. "So they can make an educated and thoughtful choice for themselves about whether or not they want to take up this addiction or not."

While many in the Major Leagues have resisted the proposed ban, some veterans agree that it's time for the big league's to start setting a better example.

"Wise up. We have to put forth a better face and that face has to be one without a bulge in our lip," ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine stated.

A ban on tobacco would need to be part of a collective bargaining agreement between owners and players. The players are expected to fight it.

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