Yesterday was opening day for Major League Baseball, one of the earliest openings ever, and almost half of all MLB stadiums are now tobacco-free. There was a time when baseball and tobacco seemed to go hand-in-hand and players actively used tobacco during the game. But over time as some of the players developed serious health issues related to their tobacco use and they become anti-tobacco spokesmen, people turned against the relationship between tobacco and the game. But just how did tobacco become synonymous with the game?
One way was through the use of cards with baseball players pictures. Baseball started in the mid-1800s, and as photography gained popularity clubs started to pose for pictures. Pictures of the players were printed on small cards and companies would use these pictures to promote themselves, even if it had nothing to do with baseball. By 1875 tobacco companies started to feature cards with the leading actresses of the day, boxers, Indian chiefs, and of course baseball players of the newly formed National Baseball League’s in 1876. The cigarette cards were used to stiffen the package and encouraged people to collect them. As the sport developed, the cards helped make baseball players household names, as well as promoting the tobacco companies.
Tobacco companies also used in-game promotions to push their tobacco products. One of the most successful tobacco product was Bull Durham Smoking Tobacco. Tobacco was already widely used by the players during the games to keep their mouths moist and Bull Durham took advantage of this in their advertising. In 1912 American Tobacco, owners of Bull Durham smokeless tobacco, set up wooden bull ads in major league stadiums around the U.S. Any player who could hit the bull was rewarded with a $50 prize. If a player hit a homer, they received free tobacco. American Tobacco gave away over $23,400 worth of product and prizes, but according to Wikipedia, “it was only about 5 cents given away to baseball players for every 700 sacks of Bull Durham that were sold.”
Tobacco companies also used billboards in stadiums to promote their brands and logos. Starting in the 1970s when advertising bans on television and radio went into effect for tobacco products, these billboards in the outfield were seen on television, providing the tobacco companies free advertising on a medium that had previously banned it.
Minor league baseball has banned smokeless tobacco since 1993, yet the majors league players fought placing a similar ban for themselves, that is until 2017 when the new collective bargaining agreement was reached. New players to the majors won’t be able to dip, however existing players can continue the practice. Cities that host a major league team have taken it upon themselves to make their stadiums tobacco-free while they waited for tobacco to be banned in the game. So far almost half of the stadiums have tobacco-free policies.
We understand that as an adult it is your choice whether to use tobacco, but when millions of children watch your actions, it sends a message to them that tobacco is still part of the game.