An American myth finally bites the dust
Known for his commentary on international relations and US politics, Rupert Cornwell also contributes obituaries and occasionally even a column for the sports pages. With The Independent since its launch in 1986, he was the paper's first Moscow correspondent - covering the collapse of the Soviet Union – during which time he won two British Press Awards. Previously a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and Reuters, he has also been a diplomatic correspondent, leader writer and columnist, and has served as Washington bureau editor. In 1983 he published God's Banker, about Roberto Calvi, the Italian banker found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge.
Monday 21 June 1993
As of last week, Major League Baseball, the sport's governing body, has banned the use of tobacco products, be they snuff, chewing tobacco or cigarettes, at games and practice sessions, even on the team bus. For now, the edict applies only to the minor leagues. But it will almost certainly be extended to the majors as well.
Thus perishes an era immortalised by Babe Ruth, America's most enduring sporting icon, who would pass the time in the dugout smoking stogies, and belligerently chomp on unlit cigars at the plate. But Ruth died from throat cancer at 53. And if the studies which led to the minor league ban are anything to go by, many of his would-be imitators today might follow him.
Smokeless tobacco, it is claimed, caused three-quarters of the 30,000 new cases of oral cancer diagnosed in the US last year. Of professional baseball players, 40 per cent use tobacco. Half of these are said to have precancerous lesions of the mouth.
Some diehards are resisting the ban, pointing out that chewing tobacco does not carry the risk of passive smoking which is one of the most potent arguments of the anti-cigarette campaigners. The new rule was 'just ridiculous', one minor leaguer said this week. 'You're telling 25- and 26-year- old guys what they can and can't do. We're grown men.'
But already smoking is heavily regulated in 22 of the country's 28 major league baseball stadiums, while the preferred chew of contemporary megastars is as likely to be bubble-gum as tobacco. Back in his 1920s and 1930s heyday, Ruth would lend his name to tobacco advertisements. Now baseball players plug milk.
Tobacco, insists Jimmy Solomon, the executive in charge of minor league baseball, 'is unsanitary, nasty and unhealthy and we're not going to promote it'. But America's ballparks will never be quite the same again.
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