Capitol Alert

California lawmakers soften proposed tobacco ban at baseball venues

Introduced in Sacramento’s Roosevelt Park in February, a bill by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, to essentially ban tobacco from baseball has been scaled back to apply only to smokeless tobacco at major- and minor-league venues, leaving out local parks used by Little League or recreational teams.
Introduced in Sacramento’s Roosevelt Park in February, a bill by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, to essentially ban tobacco from baseball has been scaled back to apply only to smokeless tobacco at major- and minor-league venues, leaving out local parks used by Little League or recreational teams. rpench@sacbee.com

Chewing tobacco would be banished from California’s Major League Baseball parks but could be used at some local fields, as could electronic cigarettes, under a watered-down Assembly bill that passed a legislative committee on Monday.

Tobacco has been prohibited for years at minor-league ballparks, but Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, and public health allies wanted to expand that ban to every baseball venue in California with Assembly Bill 768. They argued the bill would protect both players and the young Californians who admire and emulate professionals – some of whom, like late San Diego Padres great Tony Gwynn, have attributed diseases such as cancer to chewing tobacco.

A scaled-back version of the legislation would now apply only to smokeless tobacco. It exempts cigarettes and electronic cigarettes from the statewide rule – local governments can still bar them – and would encompass just major- and minor-league venues, leaving out local parks used by Little League or recreational teams. The bill passed the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee on Monday by a 15-5 vote. All five no votes came from Republicans.

The amendments convinced formerly hostile groups like the electronic cigarette maker NJOY and the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association to drop their opposition. Many ballparks already do not allow electronic cigarettes.

But the changes diminished the support of some health-oriented groups that have been championing the bill. An official with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids spoke out against the new amendments. Representatives of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association, all backers of the initial version, said their organizations were re-evaluating their positions.

“What we saw today was troubling,” Tim Gibbs, a lobbyist for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said after the hearing.

Tobacco industry money backed the campaigns of numerous lawmakers on the Governmental Organization Committee, state records show. Companies like Philip Morris USA and Altria gave $145,000 directly to committee members during the last two-year cycle, both to Republicans who voted against AB 768 and Democrats who backed it.

Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, who chairs the panel and supported the bill, received the most, with $23,000 from tobacco companies this cycle. Independent committees funded in part by tobacco firms also spent thousands last year to help elect Thurmond and some committee members.

“Traditionally, donations from tobacco companies have been aimed disproportionately at this committee,” Gibbs said, “and we hope it’s not a sign of things to come as more substantive tobacco bills come before the committee later in the year.”

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.

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