The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has for decades published annual estimates of smoking-related deaths, which I have analyzed on occasion (here and here).
It is remarkable that what I refer to as the CDC’s “Big Kill” estimates are delivered with single-digit precision. For example, the current estimate of smoking-attributable deaths is 480,317 (available here).
In stark contrast, CDC spokespeople include plenty of dire warnings but no relative risk or other specific information when talking about smokeless tobacco. For example, a recent agency report claimed that “Exclusive smokeless tobacco users have higher observed levels of exposure to nicotine and carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines… than exclusive cigarette smokers.” (abstract here). Implied is the specious message that smokeless may be more dangerous than cigarettes.
The CDC also asserts that smokeless use “causes cancer of the mouth, esophagus... and pancreas… and increases the risk for death from heart diseases and stroke” (here) – claims based upon cherry-picked or irrelevant studies, in the manner I discussed last week (here).
Despite the fact that the agency has the necessary data, CDC pronouncements about smokeless tobacco never cite numbers or estimates. In contrast, British researchers last year reported that there were no cancer deaths due to smokeless tobacco in the U.S. and Canada (discussed here). Clearly, the CDC can calculate deaths due to smokeless tobacco, but the agency chooses not to do so.
The CDC’s stonewall on statistics has been observed by others. An astute reader of my blog recently shared this fascinating story (available here):
“It's funny, after coming to this site I was curious so I went to the CDC website to see if they provided any estimates as to the number of deaths attributable to smokeless tobacco usage. I couldn't find anything on their website so I sent them an email. To their credit, they did respond, and said ‘...at this time, we do not provide estimates of deaths attributed to the use smokeless tobacco products.’ So I responded and asked them if they might be able to point me to some other source of data for these estimates. And again, to their credit, they did respond, but only to say ‘We are not aware of a source of this estimate.’ Hmmm...I would think if smokeless tobacco was indeed such a plague upon society, that they would at least be able to show some numbers.”
This reader is on target. The CDC continues to scaremonger about smokeless tobacco while it withholds data that likely shows ST-related deaths at near zero.
Taxpayers can call (800-232-4636) or email (here) the CDC to demand details and sources on the precise dangers of smokeless tobacco use. Please share any replies as a comment to this post.