A look at how big tobacco infiltrated baseball
After decades of the tobacco industry using America’s pastime to sell cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, almost half of major league baseball stadiums are starting the 2018 season tobacco-free.
The tobacco-free policies now in effect at 14 of the league’s 30 team stadiums are helping to address a legacy of tobacco industry influence dating back to over a century ago. Big Tobacco heavily invested in using tactics to link tobacco with baseball, including in-game promotions, stadium advertising and creating baseball cards.
Here’s a closer look at three major ways the tobacco industry infiltrated baseball culture, using research from the Stanford University Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising.
1. Baseball cards
Did the tobacco industry invent baseball cards?
Many might not know that a ubiquitous part of baseball fandom, baseball cards, have their roots in the tobacco industry.
The earliest baseball cards were placed inside packs of cigarettes. “Cigarette companies used cards with images of baseball players to stiffen their packs of loosely packed tobacco and thin paper wrappings as early as 1888,” according to SRITA.
Players featured on the trading cards for years to come could also be seen with a bulge of chewing tobacco in their mouths, providing further advertising for tobacco.
2. In-game promotions
Does the term bullpen come from a tobacco company?
A particularly successful in-game promotion came from tobacco company Bull Durham, starting in 1912.
The company installed billboards at most major league stadiums and promised that any player who hits the sign would get $50 (equivalent to more than $1,000 today).
“The prominence of the bull signage and its association with what was becoming America’s pastime led to enormous profits for the company and perhaps the origin of the term bullpen to refer to the warm-up area for pitchers,” according to SRITA.
3. Stadium advertising
Can tobacco companies advertise at baseball stadiums?
A trip to the ballpark, especially in the 1950s and the years following, often included a good view of a tobacco ad. “Fans’ typical experience involved seeing a giant Marlboro or Winston sign, conveniently placed above the scoreboard or exits,” states SRITA.
This method of advertising became especially important after 1971, when regulation banned tobacco commercials on television. “Without technically advertising on television, cigarette companies received significant ad time on television through these billboards,” according to SRITA.
Baseball has appeared in tobacco advertisements in many other forms. Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle are just a few of the famous names in baseball that have appeared in tobacco ads.
The influence of this tobacco industry tactic has far-reaching consequences. Smokeless tobacco, which causes cancer of the mouth, esophagus and pancreas, and leads to nicotine addiction, remains associated with baseball to this day. Its popularity with youth in recent years has remained steady and even increased among some groups as smoking rates have dropped. Smokeless tobacco is particularly popular with high school athletes, who use smokeless tobacco at almost twice the rate of non-athletes, according to 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
For more information on the movement toward tobacco-free stadiums, visit Tobacco-Free Baseball.