Two public health officials in Fargo, North Dakota, this week were the source of grossly misleading claims about smokeless tobacco for a local media story.
Fargo public health staffers Holly Scott and Melissa Markegard asserted that smokeless is as risky as cigarettes in an article by TV newscaster Robin Huebner (here). Here are the false claims:
“Just as dangerous”
“ ‘Some of that has to do with the misconception that if you don’t inhale, it might be somewhat safer,’ said Holly Scott, a tobacco prevention coordinator at Fargo Cass Public Health. In fact, it’s equally as risky. ‘When chewing, they’re actually getting more nicotine than in cigarettes, increasing their nicotine addiction,’ said Melissa Markegard, who is also a tobacco prevention coordinator at Fargo Cass Public Health. The incidence of many types of cancer and other diseases can be attributed to smoking and/or chewing tobacco, but combining the products makes it even worse. ‘It greatly increases (the risk of lung cancer) if they use both together,’ Markegard said.”
Virtually everything in this passage is false. I demanded corrective action from Fargo’s physician-mayor, noting the report from Britain's Royal College of Physicians, which concluded: “As a way of using nicotine, the consumption of non-combustible [smokeless] tobacco is on the order of 10-1,000 times less hazardous than smoking.” (here)
I also cited a 2004 study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute that concluded: “…[smokeless] products pose a substantially lower risk to the user than do conventional cigarettes. This finding raises ethical questions concerning whether it is inappropriate and misleading for government officials or public health experts to characterize smokeless tobacco products as comparably dangerous with cigarette smoking” (here).
There’s been no response to my demand, but some in North Dakota are interested in factual information. Rob Port, a prominent state policy blogger, published a guest post from me (here) and Jarrod Thomas at KNOX radio in Grand Forks gave me air time to tell North Dakotans the truth.
It’s a shame that uninformed local public health officials misinform smokers about far safer smokeless tobacco alternatives.