Wednesday, August 4, 2010

To the American Cancer Society: Tell Americans (And the Wall Street Journal) the Truth

Wall Street Journal numbers guy Carl Bialik wrote an article in April about the how the health risks from smokeless tobacco use were distorted and overblown by officials from the American Cancer Society (read it here). Specifically, Bialik pointed out that claims of a “50” fold elevated risk for mouth cancer for smokeless users have no scientific credibility.

The American Cancer Society could not defend continued use of the “50” number, so it immediately put out the white flag of surrender. Bialik wrote that “Dr. Thomas Glynn, director of cancer science and trends for the American Cancer Society, said this week that his organization will no longer use the statistic citing a 50-fold increase in risk.”

It turns out that Glynn was not telling Bialik the truth. The Cancer Society has released its annual booklet, “Cancer Facts and Figures 2010.” (available here) On page 43 under “Smokeless Tobacco Products” is the following text: “The risk of cancer of the cheek and gums is increased up to 50-fold among long-term snuff users.”

As I detailed in an earlier blog post (here), this number is a complete fabrication. Carl Phillips provided other insights about how this number is totally bogus (here).

The American Cancer Society is not telling the truth about the health risks of smokeless tobacco. This is bad enough, but it is disgraceful that the practice persists even after Cancer Society assertions to the contrary.


Anonymous said...

Yes, it's nonsense. Go to the CRUK website where you can compare the Swedish oral cancer rate with that of other EU countries. Similarly with pancreatic and lung cancers. The only difference is the much lower rate of lung cancer among Swedish males. These people should be ashamed of themselves.
Jonathan Bagley.

Michael Siegel said...

I agree that organizations like the ACS need to be more careful about disseminating unsupported scientific claims. I have written about the ACS and its misrepresentations of the acute cardiovascular effects of secondhand smoke.
My only question is whether or not the 2010 Facts and Figures may have gone to press after Dr. Glynn had announced that the ACS would make this change.
Frankly, I'm surprised that you were even able to get an admission from the organization that the claim was unsupported. I haven't had any measure of similar success with their misleading secondhand smoke claims.