In a time when Houston’s administration is embroiled in passionate debates over fire fighter pay and is facing billions in unfunded healthcare liabilities, it’s refreshing to see the city council focusing on the core issue of whether the Astros should be allowed to use smokeless tobacco in the ballpark.

Houston City Council’s Quality of Life Committee recently met to consider banning the use of smokeless chewing tobacco at Minute Maid Park — but only for the players and employees of professional baseball teams.

The proposal would prohibit only the Astros and any visiting team from chewing tobacco anywhere on the ballpark’s premises: on the field, in the dugouts, or even in the locker room. Violators would be slapped with a $2,000 fine. If the proposal passes, it would make Minute Maid Park the only Major League Baseball stadium in Texas with such a ban.

Under the current city ordinance, smoking is prohibited at any professional sporting venue in Houston, but the council is mulling expanding the ban to include smokeless tobacco. They claim there is a direct correlation between kids seeing baseball players chew tobacco and them doing it themselves.

In 2016, the MLB players’ union struck a five-year collective bargaining agreement that gave cities the ability to regulate tobacco use in MLB ballparks. Ten cities have in turn passed bans, most of which apply to all people within the ballpark. Houston’s, however, affects only the employees on the teams.

Some city council members were vocal in their opposition to the proposed ban. Dwight Boykins, District D council member, said this is a topic the city has no business regulating.

“I belong to a couple of cigar clubs, but I have the right to do that. It’s my right,” he said. “So my concern is this: if we start banning people who choose to dip … what about the people who drink? Do we have the right to say a person can’t go and buy liquor because a kid may be watching?”

Not only is the city overreaching their authority, but they even admitted that the policy would be unenforceable, and that the likelihood of a Houston officer ticketing an Astros player for dipping on the field was slim.

Thus, the city is criminalizing an otherwise innocuous behavior hoping that players and staff will simply be threatened into compliance.

Kids shouldn’t use tobacco — there’s no question about that — but it isn’t the city’s role to change that behavior by regulating the behavior of another group. If passed, the ban would just be added to the list of unenforceable ordinances that do nothing but grow government.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.


6/13/24 It’s Time to Dismantle DEI

- Texas Congressman files ‘Dismantle DEI Act’. - MS-13 gang leader arrested in Texas. - Texas joins lawsuit against new Federal Rule advantaging foreigners in US Agriculture.