Sacramento Bee

California lawmaker wants to ban tobacco at youth sports events

February 17, 2016

Bill would prohibit cigarettes and other tobacco products near games and practices

Idea came from eighth-grade class at Elk Grove school

By Alexei Koseff

State Sen. Richard Pan is taking another swing at tobacco.

The Sacramento Democrat has introduced a bill that would prohibit cigarettes, chewing tobacco, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products within 250 feet of any game, practice or activity organized by a youth sports team in California where athletes under the age of 18 are present. Violators would be punished with a $100 fine.

“Youth sports is about promoting good health and athleticism and excellence,” Pan said. “We should encourage behaviors that support those goals and discourage ones that don’t.”

Senate Bill 977 follows several proposals from last session also aimed at deterring tobacco use among young Californians, most of which ultimately wilted under intense lobbying from the tobacco industry. Legislation to raise the smoking age to 21 and to regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product stalled in the Assembly, while a new law banning chewing tobacco from major-league baseball parks was scaled back significantly from its original form.

The idea came to Pan from an eighth-grade class at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School in Elk Grove.

Teacher Sue Earl Lynn said she had her students brainstorm and write the bill as part of an election-year lesson on “who we are electing and how we as individuals can have a role in that process.” After speaking with Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, about federal breast cancer funding legislation, the class became interested in a variety of health issues, which was then narrowed down to smoking. As SB 977 moves it way through the Capitol, nine students are set to assist with the lobbying effort.

“We know that our health is important and smoking affects that,” said student Scott Cotter, who conducted research for the bill and helped pitch it to Pan. “We want to protect the kids who are doing those activities.”

Representatives from the tobacco industry could not immediately be reached for comment.