Fans not smoking over ban by A's

July 23, 1991|By Bob Rubin | Bob Rubin,Knight-Ridder

MIAMI -- Commendably, the Oakland A's have struck a blow against the nation's most deadly drug that, hopefully, will set a precedent.

This season, the A's have made their ballpark the first outdoor facility to limit smoking to designated areas. You can't smoke in the seats at the Coliseum and thus poison the atmosphere of those around you with secondary smoke, which medical science has labeled a health hazard.

"People may say, 'Hey, it's an open-air stadium; the wind blows ** the smoke away,' " said Andy Dolich, vice president of business operations. "But that's just not factual. You sit next to someone who's smoking, and it's going to blow in your face."

Dolich said the decision, which risked alienating customers who smoke, was based on "social acceptability, including health considerations." It fit into the A's overall philosophy of trying to create a clean, wholesome family environment in the ballpark, a concept they freely admit they've copied from the organization that's state-of-the-art in the business -- Disney.

Perhaps because Northern California is a health-conscious, progressive area, the limit on smoking in the Coliseum has not met with the resistance the A's had anticipated. They've gotten 250 letters, which Dolich says have run roughly 65-35 in favor of the policy. The A's have drawn about 1.7 million fans so far but have had to eject only three for non-compliance.

"We thought it would engender more controversy than it has," Dolich said. "We conduct focus groups every year to see how people feel about various policies of ours, and it seems even the smokers say they'll live with it . . . which is kind of an interesting way to put it."

Some, of course, won't live with it. Smoking results in an estimated 400,000 deaths annually. I'm convinced smoking killed both my parents. I was hooked, too, giving up cigarettes five years ago, with enormous difficulty. It's a viciously addictive habit. Pity those who can't quit.

That cigarettes are still legal is astounding. You know how cautious the Food and Drug Administration is about approving new drugs for the marketplace until it's sure they're safe. Imagine if today a company sought FDA approval to market a new drug the medical community said would kill 400,000 people annually and sicken God knows how many more. How do the cigarette makers get away with it? How do they sleep at night?

Having been banned from the airways, the tobacco industry has found other ways to sell death. A favorite, $500 million worth, is advertising at and/or sponsorship of sports events. Cigarette ads are ubiquitous at ballparks and arenas. Camel sponsors sports car racing; Winston sponsors stock car racing; Marlboro sponsors soccer; Virginia Slims sponsors women's tennis.

Louis W. Sullivan, the secretary of Health and Human Services, has called such sponsorship "blood money" and called for a fan boycott, which will never happen. You might think the governing bodies of soccer and tennis would not want their athletes, who personify youthful fitness and health, to be associated with the world's most notorious carcinogen, but when there's millions of dollars involved, it doesn't matter if the money's bloody or not.

"Virginia Slims has never asked the players to pose with cigarettes or to endorse smoking," said Ana Leaird, director of public relations for the Women's Tennis Association. "Our feeling is that as long as smoking is legal, there's nothing wrong with accepting sponsorship. We don't think morality is an issue. Everyone has an opinion on smoking. Virginia Slims has been very supportive of women's tennis and continues to be."

Virginia Slims has also been very supportive of lung cancer, which has passed breast cancer as the leading cause of death in women. You've come a long way, baby.

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