Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Banning Smokeless Tobacco Flavors
A serious warning to mint and wintergreen smokeless tobacco users: Your flavors may be prohibited soon.
A new study, conducted by chemists at Portland State University and published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, concluded that “the level of flavorants in brand name smokeless tobacco products are up to 700 percent higher than in some well-known candy products.” According to senior author Jim Pankow, “the amount of wintergreen flavorant could by itself pose serious health risks to some consumers.”
The study and its media pitch follow the same toxicology tactic of mixing chemical analysis and scaremongering. First the facts...
Pankow and his group analyzed levels of mint and wintergreen flavorant chemical compounds in sub-brands of smokeless products. The major flavorant in mint products is menthol, and the major flavorant in wintergreen products is methyl salicylate. As a comparison, the same flavorings in candy products were measured.
In order to report results that are meaningful to consumers, Pankow made some assumptions about consumption – and some of those are whoppers. First, all of his calculations are based on an adult body weight of 60 kilograms, or about 132 lbs. This is a gross underestimate; the average weight among American men is about 80 kilograms, or about 180 lbs. The obvious effect is that estimates of flavorant “overconsumption” are exaggerated for lower body weights. But I’ll stay with the 60 kilogram assumption.
Pankow’s next assumption is about smokeless consumption. Pankow assumed that users consumed about 15 grams per day. That doesn’t sound unreasonable, but here’s the shocker: Pankow assumes that smokeless users effectively swallow the entire 15 gram dose and absorb 100% of the contents. That’s the same assumption he made for mint and wintergreen flavored candies.
Now the scaremongering…
For mint flavor smokeless tobacco, Pankow’s results weren’t too bad. He found that “menthol… was found… at levels... that average 50% higher than in” mint flavored candy. Furthermore, smokeless users would get only 20% of the maximum acceptable daily intake (MADI), which is set by the Expert Committee on Food Additives, administered jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization.
For wintergreen users, the results appeared to be much more ominous. Pankow found that average levels of methyl salicylate in smokeless products were eight times the levels in candy. More important, smokeless users may theoretically get eleven times the MADI level.
This appears frightening, but it is based on 100% absorption of the wintergreen flavor and everything else in the 15 gram daily consumption of smokeless tobacco. This, of course, is patently absurd. A simple example proves how Pankow manipulated the results, not just for maximum wintergreen levels, but to make the maximum case for prohibiting this flavor.
The proof is in the levels of nicotine, otherwise known as “Vitamin N,” which Pankow also reported. For wintergreen flavored products (except Hawken), the average nicotine level was 10 milligrams per gram. Using Pankow’s assumptions, the average 60 kilogram smokeless tobacco user consumes 150 milligrams of nicotine.
THIS IS 2.5 to 5 TIMES THE LETHAL DOSE OF NICOTINE.
We know that wintergreen smokeless tobacco users are not consuming lethal doses of nicotine, and it follows that they are not consuming unsafe doses of wintergreen flavor. But that won’t stop prohibitionists from calling for a tobacco-product flavor ban like the one proposed for New York City.
In fact, Pankow’s Portland State press release is full of quotes characterizing smokeless products as deadly and manufacturers as evil.
Donald Austin, president of the Oregon Public Health Association: “Tobacco companies already disregard many serious health hazards posed by the use of their products… They should not be allowed to expose tobacco users to additional toxic risks from flavoring additives.” With virtually no evidence, Austin already assumes that flavors impart “toxic risks.”
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (Oregon) made the kiddie connection, despite the fact that children were not part of this study: “This report indicates that the tobacco companies are still up to their old tricks of deceiving the public by using smokeless tobacco flavorants to appeal to underage users. This study is an important addition to the scientific oversight of the tobacco industry and will be incredibly helpful in safeguarding the health of Americans.”
Unflavored smokeless tobacco products are unappealing to many smokers, so the success of tobacco harm reduction is vitally dependent on the availability of substitutes that are satisfying and flavorful. Anti-tobacco extremists know very well that satisfying and flavorful products are now on the American market, so they are using ANY tactic, regardless of its practical or scientific validity, to promote prohibition. This campaign to ban smokeless tobacco flavors is in full motion.