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July 15th, 2014
10:12 PM ET

Tony Gwynn's death renews call for MLB to ban chewing tobacco

(CNN) – At Tuesday's All-Star game in Minnesota, it will be hard not to think of Padre great Tony Gwynn.

He was an all star 15 times, a man who lived to play and teach and talk baseball, and a man who died way too early because of a habit associated with it - chewing tobacco, a known cause of cancer.

Now, after more than 100 years, there's a renewed push to get rid of it on the field.

Gwynn died last month of cancer in his salivary gland, a diagnosis the hall of famer blamed on chewing tobacco.

Baseball great Babe Ruth, also a longtime tobacco chewer, died of oral cancer

Now nine major public health organizations are pushing Major League Baseball to ban all tobacco use by players and staff at games, and on camera, to honor Gwynn's memory

They sent a letter to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and Players Association chief Tony Clark, calling on them to "set the right example for America's kids."

"Kids see their heroes on the field, and they want to emulate and be just like their favorite slugger, or their favorite pitcher," said Erika Sward, with the American Lung Association.

A June CDC report found that while smoking rates for high school students have fallen by more than half since 1999, smokeless tobacco use by students has held steady.

Groups have been waging this battle over baseball and health for years. Similar letters in 2011 and 2012 pushed the league to act, as did a tobacco-free kids PSA ad.

Selig pushed for a total ban in 2011, but the players union instead called for restrictions, opting to let players keep their habit, as long as it was out of the public's eye.

The 2011 labor contract bans smokeless tobacco use during TV interviews and club appearances, orders players and staff to hide tobacco products when fans are around, and bans carrying them in their uniforms or on their bodies.

"You can't go through a three-hour game, and not see players with a big wad of chaw in their jaws," said Sward. "It's clear that the 2011 agreement did not go far enough ,and what we really need to have with the agreement starting in 2017 is an end of smokeless tobacco use in general on the field."

Advocates are hoping that if they build awareness for it, their dream of tobacco free fields comes true

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