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Tony Gwynn will be part of baseball's anti-smokeless tobacco campaign

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 28:  Inductee Tony Gwynn speaks to the media during the Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees press conference held at Cooperstown Central School July 28, 2007 in Cooperstown, New York.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Tony Gwynn
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Tony Gwynn speaks to the media during the Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees' press conference in Cooperstown, New York in 2007.

The death of baseball great Tony Gwynn has thrown a spotlight on the use of smokeless tobacco among baseball players, and Gwynn - who blamed his habit for his mouth cancer - will help educate players from beyond the grave.

Gwynn's message will carry on through an education film being produced by Major League Baseball and the Pro Baseball Athletic Trainers Society, according to Mike Teevan, spokesman for the league.

In the film, Gwynn advises players to never start using or to stop if they do.  Mark O’Neal, head of the  Society gave that line away this week in a statement about Gwynn’s death.

"Tony took the time to add the following words about the dangers associated with spit-tobacco use to a film which will be released to all major and minor league players later this year: 'My advice to anyone would be if you aren’t using spit tobacco, please don’t start. And if you are using, try to quit. If not for yourself, then do it for the people you love,'" O’Neal said.

The educational campaign is one piece of a first-of-its-kind-policy the league put in place during labor negotiations with the Major League Baseball Players Association in 2011. According to reports from the negotiations at that time, the league wanted to ban the use of smokeless tobacco but the Players Association was against it.  In the Minor Leagues, use and possession of tobacco has been banned since 1993.

Players Association spokesman Greg Bouris said the terms in 2011 included certain restrictions, education and cessation programs.

"The Major League Baseball Players Association long has and continues to discourage the use of smokeless tobacco products by its members or by anyone else. These products carry serious health risks and remain legally and widely available," he said in an email.

Neither the league nor the Players Association keeps track of usage among players. The Trainers Society recently conducted a survey but the results have not yet been made public.

Nationwide, the use of smokeless tobacco has remained stable over the years. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 3.2 percent of people 12 and older reported using it in 2011, compared with 3.3 percent in 2002.

The highlights of the 2011 MLB tobacco policy:

  • Prohibits the use of smokeless tobacco during televised interviews and public appearances, and anytime fans are around.  
  • Requires players and staff to hide tobacco products when fans are in the ballpark and prohibits them from carrying packages or tins in their uniforms or on their person.
  • Teams are required to conduct oral exams on each player during spring training.
  • The league and the Players Association agreed to an extensive education and public outreach program around the dangers of smokeless tobacco.
  • Players will be given written and online materials about the risks, and a list of organizations that focus on cessation.

Other MLB policies related to tobacco include:

  • Teams are not allowed to distribute tobacco products in clubhouses.
  • Teams cannot accept free tobacco products from companies.
  • Club personnel cannot smoke when in uniform in front of spectators.