By Jacqueline Tempera
BOSTON (Reuters) - Boston Mayor Marty Walsh on Wednesday took on one of baseball's oldest traditions, saying he planned to ban chewing tobacco at the century-old Fenway Park and all other sporting facilities in the city starting next year.
Flanked by former Boston Red Sox pitcher and cancer survivor Curt Schilling, Walsh said the link between tobacco use and cancer was indisputable and ball players from the sandlot to the big leagues should set an example by giving up the habit.
"Boston loves baseball and ballplayers are our kids' heroes," Walsh said, standing by home plate at one of the city's busiest youth baseball diamonds. "We owe it to the next generation to make public spaces safe, to listen to experts, and to get the facts. Tobacco has no place on our baseball fields."
Smoking is already illegal in most public spaces in Boston, including restaurants, stores, public parks and the 103-year-old Fenway Park, which the Red Sox call home. Walsh's proposal, which he plans to submit to the City Council on Monday, would ban chewing tobacco, snuff and dipping tobacco at all public sporting events in the city, from the professional level to youth leagues.
Schilling, who was diagnosed with cancer after using chewing tobacco for 30 years, said he felt a responsibility to educate young fans about the risk.
"If the cameras had followed me from the mound in 2007 to the hospital with my feeding tube, chemotherapy and radiation, I don't think a lot of kids would have taken up dipping," he said. "Or at least they might've stopped."
Walsh said he was confident the City Council would pass the ordinance, making Boston the second U.S. city to enact such a ban, following San Francisco. The prohibitions would become effective on April 1, 2016.
Violators caught using smokeless tobacco would face a $250 fine. The ban would apply to visiting professional teams as well as local teams, he said.
Walsh said he did not care if visiting professional players, many on multimillion-dollar contracts, opted to pay the fines and continued to use tobacco.
"We are banning dip," he said. "There is no difference between this and when the Red Sox go up to Toronto and go through customs. People will have to deal with it."
Major League Baseball strongly discourages the use of smokeless tobacco, but has not banned it, saying the players union has stood in the way.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Mohammad Zargham)