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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - Major League Baseball players would be banned from using chewing tobacco at games in California under a bill introduced in the state legislature on Tuesday, the first in a nationwide campaign planned by anti-tobacco activists.
The bill targets baseball's ubiquitous habit less than a year after retired San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn died of cancer of the salivary glands, believed related to chewing tobacco or "dipping" it by lodging it between the lip and the gum.
"Tony Gwynn was somebody I thought was a spokesman for baseball, a great role model as a person," said the bill's author, Assembly member Tony Thurmond, a Democrat who represents Richmond and other suburbs of San Francisco.
"I'm hopeful that this bill will lend to his legacy, that it will help to prevent illness for young people and young athletes."
Smoking is already banned in Major League Baseball, and the minor leagues have prohibited dipping and chewing, although some say the minor league rules are not strictly enforced. Major League Baseball strongly discourages the use of smokeless tobacco, but has not banned it, saying that the players' union has stood in the way.
"We ardently believe that children should not use or be exposed to smokeless tobacco, and we support the spirit of this initiative in California and any others that would help achieve this important goal," the league said in a statement sent to Reuters on Tuesday.
Thurmond's bill would ban use of all tobacco products at Major League Baseball stadiums in the state, including dipping, chewing, smoking or using electronic or e-cigarettes. It would also require baseball stadiums to post signs announcing the ban in all dugouts, bull pens, locker rooms and bathrooms and at all entrances.
Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said chewing tobacco is not only deadly for adults, but increasingly popular with teens and boys emulating their baseball heroes.
"The use of smokeless tobacco has actually increased among kids," Myers said, "because young fans idolize and imitate Major League Baseball players."
Myers's organization is backing Thurmond's bill, and hopes to carry the campaign to other states if it is successful in California.
Other baseball greats have also battled cancer believed linked to chewing tobacco. Last year, former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling said he was diagnosed with cancer, which he said he believed was related to his use of smokeless tobacco.
Editing by Ken Wills and Mohammad Zargham