Baseball Slowly Losing Its Spitting Image

Dec. 2, 1998
Contact: Mary Bridget Reilly
513-556-1824 (O)

Cincinnati -- Baseball is kicking its habit, cutting back on tobacco advertising and use after 130 years of close ties, according to a snapshot survey by University of Cincinnati students.

Thirty-five students in "The Social History of Baseball," an unusual course offered in the city where major league baseball started, recently surveyed 320 residents concerning tobacco and its place in the American pastime. They found that tobacco use and advertising is past its prime time, according to instructor Kevin Grace, assistant head of UC's archives and nationally recognized sports researcher.

The survey determined that only two sports - baseball and auto racing (specifically NASCAR) - are strongly associated with tobacco, and that significant numbers of respondents hold a negative view of the association, with 76 percent of female respondents and 46 percent of male respondents disliking the tobacco industry's links with sports.

Respondents were evenly divided concerning any ban of tobacco advertising in ball parks, 51 percent favored such bans while 48 percent opposed them; however, women and young adults strongly favored the banning of tobacco ads. Eighty-eight percent of women respondents and 76 percent of respondents aged 20-35 favored outlawing tobacco advertising in parks.

"The opposition to tobacco's presence in ball parks stems, in part, over the influence that baseball has on children. A whopping 97 percent of those surveyed believe that children are influenced by baseball players use of tobacco, and another 84 percent believe that the tobacco industry targets children and teenagers with their advertising in ballparks and other venues," explained Grace.

Baseball has responded to general disapproval of tobacco and is likely to go further despite significant advertising revenue and a relationship that goes back to, at least, 1867 when print ads and packaging linked "victory" cigars and baseball, and tobacco products were named after teams.

Currently, no minor league personnel - from players and administrators to ticket takers and umpires - are permitted to smoke or chew within the confines of the stadium. Some minor league stadiums have already banned tobacco advertising, and all are scaling back on the size and placement of such ads, said Grace.

On the professional level, strict regulations on advertising have been proposed, including the banning of specific brand names, and of the use of color and fictional characters in advertising. No active professional player is permitted to "pitch" tobacco products.

"There's a big movement to get rid of all tobacco advertising in baseball. Our survey indicates that, with the general population, it's not considered a bad move, especially among women and younger people," according to Grace, who cautioned that prohibitions against all use of tobacco is much more controversial. Though the survey indicated an awareness of tobacco s harmful effects, respondents - particularly older individuals and males - opposed increased government regulation of its use.

Seventy-six percent of those surveyed opposed the banning of tobacco use, including smokeless tobacco, at the high school or college level. They do; however, approve of designated smoking areas in ball parks, with 67 percent favoring the limitation of use to specific areas.

This baseball in American life survey is one in a series conducted about baseball and basketball as part of Grace's UC courses. The next survey, conducted during spring quarter's "Basketball and American Society," will focus on gambling.

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