Democrats urge baseball test for human growth hormone and ban chewing tobacco

WASHINGTON – Two House Democrats are urging Major League Baseball and the players union to implement testing for human growth hormone and ban chewing tobacco by players in uniform and in public view.

Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Frank Pallone of New Jersey made those requests in a letter Wednesday to commissioner Bud Selig and Michael Weiner, executive director of the players union.

It’s the latest in a series of salvos from Capitol Hill on tobacco and HGH, although recent congressional attention on HGH has focused on the NFL.

Waxman, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Pallone, the top Democrat on the panel’s health subcommittee, held a hearing last year on chewing tobacco and dip – collectively known as smokeless tobacco. They’re making a push on tobacco and HGH as MLB and the union negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, with the current one set to expire next month.

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“These issues affect the integrity of the game, the health of your players, and most important, the health of teenagers who aspire to be like pro players,” the congressmen wrote.

The players union declined to comment on the letter. MLB did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Waxman and Pallone noted that Selig testified in 2008 that he would support an HGH test “when a valid, commercially available and practical test for HGH becomes reality,” and that Weiner’s predecessor, Donald Fehr, said at that hearing the union would “consider in good faith any valid and effective test which is developed.” Waxman chaired that hearing, held to discuss the Mitchell Report, which identified major league players it said had used steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

“The time to begin testing for HGH in baseball has arrived,” the congressmen wrote, citing the use of blood testing for HGH in the Olympics.

The NFL and its players already agreed to begin blood testing for HGH as part of their new collective bargaining agreement reached in late July – but only if the union agreed to the methods. The union has delayed implementing the test, asking for more scientific data to prove it is reliable. Last week, Waxman and two other House Democrats urged the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Michigan Republican Fred Upton, to hold hearings on the impasse. Waxman’s office said it has not yet received a formal response.

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Meanwhile, four senators wrote to the baseball players union on the eve of the World Series last month urging a ban on chewing tobacco. A coalition including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society and the American Medical Association has been pushing for one since last year. Selig endorsed the ban in March, but the players union hasn’t committed to one. Weiner said in June that a “sincere effort” will be made to address the issue.

“There is ample precedent for a ban on the use of smokeless tobacco on the field and in the dugout,” Waxman and Pallone wrote. “The use of cigarettes by players in uniform and in view of the public has been banned for over three decades. Minor league baseball has banned the use or possession of smokeless tobacco in ballparks since 1993, with no adverse impact on the game or its players.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says smokeless tobacco can cause cancer, oral health problems and nicotine addiction, and stresses it is not a safe alternative to smoking. Despite the risks, the CDC’s most recent survey found that in 2009, 15 per cent of high school boys used smokeless tobacco – a more than one-third increase over 2003, when 11 per cent did.

Some baseball players interviewed by The Associated Press at the end of the season were receptive to a ban, but others viewed it as an infringement on their freedom. Chewing tobacco in baseball dates well back into the 19th century.

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