Friday, June 24, 2011
A Nationwide Campaign Against Smokeless Tobacco
Letters to editors and commentaries are appearing regularly around the country, over the signatures of local public health officials, physicians and other respected health figures. Many of these items share similar talking points, including the scourge of nicotine, misrepresented health risks, and baseless accusations of marketing candy-like products to kids. All of this is attributed to the tobacco industry, despite that sector’s regulation by the FDA.
There is another common thread: Most of the articles cite the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids as their source for the specious claims. Here is an example, written by Montana’s Lewis and Clark County health officer Melanie Reynolds and published in the Helena Independent Record (here).
To set the record straight, I wrote the following to the newspaper’s editor:
“It is clear that Melanie Reynolds’ commentary (Beware of tobacco…, June 15) promotes prohibition (‘We in public health recommend avoiding all tobacco products…’), but that goal does not justify its use of misleading and inaccurate information.
“Ms. Reynolds portrays these products as ‘dangerous,’ but she completely ignores decades of research documenting that smokeless tobacco use is 98% safer than smoking. While no tobacco product is absolutely safe, the majority of cigarette smokers are routinely misinformed – by government agencies and by anti-tobacco extremists – about the relative safety of smokeless products. Unlike cigarettes, smokeless does not cause lung cancer, heart disease or emphysema. Smokers rightfully worry about mouth cancer, but they should take comfort in the fact that the risk for mouth cancer with smokeless is far lower than it is with cigarettes. Statistically, smokeless users have about the same risk of dying from mouth cancer as automobile users have of dying in a car wreck. In fact, switching from cigarettes to smokeless provides almost all of the health benefits of complete tobacco abstinence.
“Ms. Reynolds repeats Tobacco-Free Kids’ flimsy allegations about children. If Lewis and Clark County health officials have evidence that tobacco manufacturers are marketing to children, these very serious charges should be directed to the Montana State Attorney General. Since the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, tobacco manufacturers have been prohibited from directly or indirectly targeting children, and many states have an expedited process for policing and enforcing MSA provisions. Otherwise, these represent nothing more than hollow and specious diatribes.
“New smokeless products are for adult smokers, not children. The 8 million Americans who will die from smoking-related illnesses in the next 20 years are now adults who are at least 35 years old. Preventing youth access to tobacco is vitally important but should not be misused to condemn smoking parents and grandparents to premature death.
“Ms. Reynolds describes tobacco manufacturers as ‘devious’ for introducing vastly safer smokeless products, but this is irresponsible. If any other consumer product was as dangerous as cigarettes, society would demand safer alternatives, and it would be scandalous if consumers were denied them. Tobacco prohibitionists wish to do just that.”
Professor of Medicine
Endowed Chair, Tobacco Harm Reduction Research
University of Louisville
On June 15 John Doran, Editor at the Independent Record, replied that he would “get [my letter] in as soon as we can.”