Roping Up Tobacco

You may not think baseball and rodeo are related, but they are if you think about smokeless tobacco.  Young kids have their heroes and idols they try to emulate whether on the field or in the saddle.

The sandlot boys have long looked to baseball players as role models on how to swing a bat and pitch a curve.  Players were watched spitting tobacco while on the mound or in the dugout.  The ball playing kids copied their heroes stance and copied their brand of tobacco.  Young cowboys aren’t any different.  Their bull riding idols have a faded imprint of a can in the back jeans pocket.  And the young kids are learning their smokeless tobacco lessons with boots, spurs and hats on, all the while trying hard not swallow a cheek of chew while riding a bucking bull or a moving horse.  Many of the young rodeo hopefuls start using smokeless tobacco before they even get out of elementary school.

Chew has been part of that rodeo tradition, and young riders have grown up within that smokeless tobacco culture.  It was normal to go to a rodeo, professional or collegiate, and see Copenhagen and Skoal banners flying and get free tins of tobacco, sometimes enough samples to last months.  For nearly 40 years U.S. Smokeless Tobacco even sponsored the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) event, and provided $250,000 in scholarship money, along with tins of free tobacco.  But times are changing.

New requirements from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “prohibits tobacco brand name sponsorship of any athletic, musical, or other social or cultural event, or any team or entry in those events.”  Handling out free t-shirts and hats with smokeless tobacco logos is also prohibited.  And distribution of smokeless tobacco products is limited.

Tobacco company money and their free samples are no longer welcomed at rodeos and some participants and attendees are not happy with the change.  Event organizers at the CNFR are trying to pull together scholarship money, and estimate the pull out by the tobacco company resulted in an 80 percent loss in money to participants.

On the other hand health advocates are pleased that the promotion of a “deadly killer” is eliminated from these family events; the young contestants were willing and eager targets for tobacco.  “The younger the target, the longer they are a customer.”

There was always a price to pay when it came to tobacco at rodeos.  Was the rodeo scholarship money and free tobacco really for “the kids”?  And while officials are upset over losing the money, is no one, other than health advocates, concerned about the health of those young kids who are using chewing tobacco?  Hopefully a new, “healthy sponsor” will step up and help change the attitude of using smokeless tobacco among these young rodeo participants.

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