Monday, September 14, 2009

Wisdom From the Wall Street Journal

I have been engaged in tobacco harm reduction research for over 15 years; during this time I have discussed the subject with numerous journalists. Most of the subsequent news stories have been of marginal quality or even grossly inaccurate, because journalists rarely challenge spokesmen from the American Cancer Society or government health agencies who misrepresent smokeless tobacco as just as dangerous and just as evil as cigarettes.

The Wall Street Journal is the rare exception to the above. In 2006 and 2007, the Journal’s Pulitzer prize winning Kevin Helliker wrote a series of articles on tobacco harm reduction as a critical public health issue. Helliker challenged everyone he interviewed to fully substantiate their positions. The resulting articles remain quite simply the best media treatment on the subject. Two of his articles can be read here and here.

On August 31, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Lorillard, Inc. filed suit in U.S. district court in Bowling Green, Kentucky to block some of the provisions of legislation giving the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco products. On September 13, the Wall Street Journal editorialized on why the FDA legislation is flawed. One of the major points of the editorial, available here is that the legislation prohibits manufacturers from telling consumers that smokeless tobacco is safer than cigarettes:

“And there's also not much doubt that the new law hinders the ability of tobacco companies to communicate information to consumers, even when that information could lead to less harmful choices. Smokeless tobacco products aren't as dangerous as cigarettes because they contain fewer carcinogens and don't enter the lungs. Yet the law effectively prohibits companies from describing the relative health risks of different products. So a law that backers call a victory for public health actually prevents tobacco companies from informing consumers that switching to smoke-free nicotine products will reduce their health risks. Smokeless tobacco is not risk-free, but a public policy that pretends it is just as dangerous as lighting up is misleading and constitutionally suspect.”

The editorial concludes: “We sympathize with sincere efforts to reduce smoking. But imposing overly broad commercial speech restrictions that impede competition from safer alternatives is the wrong way to advance public health.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We in the Uk are in an even worse position. The sale of smokeless tobacco products is not legal, although it is possible to order Swedish snus online. This is probably not legal. I found out about snus only through a Swedish work colleague 2 years ago. He brought me some back and I have found it to be the only practical cigarette substitute. There has been an article in the BMJ in support of snus. The article pointed out it could be ordered online and this got past the editors! Cive Bates, a former Head of ASH UK, has written supporting snus use, but the current ASH UK are fanatical anti-tobacco zealots who keep peddling the oral/pancreatic cancer myth. Sweden is trying to get the EU ban repealed, but with little success. It is almost beyond belief that thousands are dying prematurely because of ignorance and corruption within European politics. I'm guessing that while drug companies can make huge sums of money selling their drugs and gum, nothing will change here.