Lexington's 56 city-run baseball parks, including Whitaker Bank Ballpark where the Lexington Legends play, are now tobacco-free. The city prohibits use of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products at city fields, including dugouts, bleachers, spectator areas, concession areas and restrooms.
"This important move will create a healthier and safer place for the thousands of Legends fans who come to the park each season," Mayor Jim Gray said at the announcement.
Gray noted that Lexington passed Kentucky's first city-wide smoking ban nearly 15 years ago and saw "almost immediate results," including fewer asthma-related emergency room visits and a "big" drop in the smoking rate.
"For the kids and families coming to the parks, we are taking the next step as a city," he said.
This effort is part of a nationwide movement to break the longstanding connection between baseball and smokeless tobacco, often used by baseball players.
The latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 10.6 percent of Kentucky high schoolers used smokeless tobacco in 2017, compared to 5.8 percent nationally in 2016. Many more boys than girls use the product in Kentucky, 17.2 percent versus 3.1 percent.
It's a habit that comes with serious health risk, including oral, pancreatic and esophageal cancer. It can also lead to nicotine addiction, increased risk for death from heart disease and stroke, and diseases of the mouth.
"We applaud the Lexington Legends for taking a strong stand against tobacco and for kids, by making Whitaker Bank Ballpark 100 percent tobacco-free,"said Amy Barkley, regional director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "By taking tobacco use completely out of the game here in Lexington, it sends a strong message to kids that our national pastime should be about promoting a healthy and active lifestyle, not a deadly and addictive product."
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' "Knock Tobacco Out of the Park" program has been working with professional baseball for several years to "take tobacco out of the game of baseball for good," Barkley said.
Chewing tobacco has been banned among players in minor league baseball at ballparks and during team travel since 1993, but so far only 14 out of 30 Major League teams have similar policies, said Barkley. She added that the last collective bargaining agreement prohibits any new player in Major League ball from using tobacco.
Andy Shea, president and CEO of the Lexington Legends, said in a news release, "We are very proud to be one of the first Minor League Baseball facilities in the country to go tobacco-free."
Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky CEO Ben Chandler Chandler gave Shea and Gray a Health Policy Champions award from the foundation. He called the announcement "an important signal that we're sending here in the commonwealth of Kentucky to everybody about the need to curb our use of tobacco here in Kentucky."