Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Actionable Health Videos for Smokers, Dippers and Chewers


I have been educating tobacco users for 25 years about the differential in risks associated with combustible and smoke-free tobacco products.  I have published dozens of studies in medical and scientific journals (here), authored newspaper op-eds, been quoted in many news stories, penned over 500 blog posts and provided countless radio interviews. 

In the face of this fact-driven effort, tobacco prohibitionists in the medical establishment and government have mounted a campaign of exaggerated and even fabricated claims against effective harm reduction tools, including smokeless tobacco, e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn products.  Occasionally, they have subjected me to ad hominem attacks.  With these measures, prohibitionists have dissuaded massive numbers of smokers from acting to reduce their risk and lengthen their lives.  Over these 25 years, 10 million smokers have suffered premature, and for many, preventable early deaths.

Of late, vapers have become organized and vocal in challenging these unscientific, unprofessional, and even unethical attacks on tobacco harm reduction, but traditional tobacco users, like smokers, dippers and chewers, have been slower to respond. 

One notable exception has been the extremely impactful work of two internet stars.  Darcy Compton joined with two friends in 2005 “to create a product that would fill a need of every smokeless tobacco user in America.  From the humble beginnings of three guys assembling spittoons by hand out of a residential garage, to a full-fledged manufacturing plant based in Southern California, Mud Jug epitomizes the American dream of hard work, honesty, quality and value. Every Mud Jug [portable spittoon] has been, and will continue to be 100% made in the United States of America.” (here

Darcy is more than a founder and president of Mudjug (here); he’s the star of the wildly popular Mudjug YouTube Series that boasts nearly 200,000 subscribers (here). 

In 2012, Darcy published a video review of my book, For Smokers Only (here), which has since drawn over 300,000 views.  


Upon learning of the video in 2014, I contacted Darcy and accepted his invitation to record an interview with him, which is available here.  That chat, which has 211,000 views, demonstrates the educational power of social media.    



Darcy subsequently introduced me to Jared, aka “Outlaw Dipper,” who recently conducted his own interview with me (here).  Five weeks later, that video has 138,000 views and 1,000 comments. 



The FDA insists that the central message of its smokeless tobacco education campaign is “smokeless doesn’t mean harmless,” (here), but the campaign itself is harmful to public health.  The agency claims to “educate rural, male teenagers about risks of dipping,” but it engages in exaggeration, distortion, and even fabrication of minimal or nonexistent risks.  It willfully misleads smokers and dippers, putting their lives in jeopardy.

In contrast, the videos from Darcy and Jared are educating hundreds of thousands about the simple, scientific tobacco truth that smoke-free is vastly safer.  Thousands of posted comments prove what surveys have shown (here): that most Americans remain unaware of the differential risks of smoking and dipping.  Darcy’s and Jared’s viewers aren’t just being entertained; many have subsequently switched from cigarettes to smokeless. 

Darcy and Jared will never get public health awards for their videos, but they have performed a public health service of incalculable value.


Friday, January 18, 2019

It’s Time for Tobacco 21


A December 19 “teen vaping epidemic” presentation by U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center was particularly noteworthy for one passage (here): 



“We want the science to be an important part of that policy discussion.  I think the science is clear that raising the age of which youth can purchase these tobacco products to 21 has clear public health benefits.  There’s no doubt about that.  The science part of this policy equation is clear: Tobacco 21 works.”



To my knowledge, this is the first time the Surgeon General has publicly supported Tobacco 21.  Perhaps his landmark endorsement will prompt Congress to legislate that the minimum age for tobacco purchase match that for alcohol.



There are compelling reasons to make Tobacco 21 the law of the land.  First and foremost, it would delegitimize tobacco sales to 18-year-old high school students.  While they constitute 14% of all high school students, they account for one-quarter of high school smokers and smoker-vapers (here).  Legal buyers – not manufacturers and retailers – are the primary source for tobacco products used by underage high schoolers (here).



Another argument for Tobacco 21 is the track record of Alcohol 21, which was adopted by all states by 1988 (here).  There is no doubt this law has played an important role in the decline of high school drinking and binge-drinking (trend here), even though current prevalence is far from optimal.



I have to acknowledge my discomfort with treating 18-20-year-olds as children, but the Tobacco 21 website provides this persuasive information:



“For 600 years of English common law and throughout most of U.S. legal history, the age of 21 was regarded as the age of full adult status.  Until 1971 the legal minimum voting age was 21 and many states maintained age 21 as their legal drinking age.  It was not until the Vietnam War with the unpopular, forcible draft of disenfranchised 18-year-olds, that the age to vote in the U.S. was shifted downward to 18 by the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  During that period 25 states also moved to reduce the age to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages.  The result was a dramatic increase in highway crashes, injuries and deaths caused by intoxicated drivers in the 16-20 age group.”



Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveals that in 1988 there were 10,200 drivers age 16-20 years involved in a fatal accident, and 25% of them had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher (here).  By 2016 the number of drivers in that age group involved in fatal accidents was 4,400, and 15% had a BAC of 0.08% or higher.  Alcohol 21 is only one of many factors that contributed to that reduction, and those numbers are still unacceptably high, but the trend suggests that Tobacco 21 will result in a reduction in teen tobacco use.



Tobacco 21 has been endorsed by most major medical organizations (here), and it has been adopted by six states: Hawaii (2015), California (2016), New Jersey (2017), Oregon (2017), Maine (2017) and Massachusetts (2018) (here).  While the remaining states could adopt Tobacco 21 at will, congressional action would have a more immediate, profound effect in limiting high school students’ access to tobacco products.





Friday, January 11, 2019

Intolerable False Statements by FDA’s Mitch Zeller


Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA Center for Tobacco Products, should stop making false statements about smokeless tobacco.

The FDA earlier this week expanded its smokeless tobacco campaign, arranging a series of interviews for Zeller (example here), whose script included two provably false statements.

   “Every year more then [sic] 2,000 new [mouth or throat] cancer [cases] are diagnosed in the United States solely caused by smokeless tobacco use.”

This number is a pure fabrication.  No medical authority, including the FDA, has ever produced such a figure, which is more than 50% higher than the agency’s estimate of two years ago (here). Even that number was a gross exaggeration, due to a serious technical error confusing the historical risks of dip and chew (essentially zero) favored by American men with the higher risks of dry powdered snuff preferred by women (here).

The Zeller number is further undercut by last year’s American Cancer Society report which omitted smokeless tobacco as a cause of cancer (here).   

Zeller also produced this false statement in his latest publicity tour:

2.     …“a white spot inside your lip or gum that you know if you’re seventeen eighteen years old and you see that and you don't pay any attention to it, it can progress to things like cancer.”

A white patch, as I have documented (here), is simply a reaction to the irritating effect of the tobacco, similar to the development of calluses on a worker’s hand.  The link between white patches and cancer is virtually zero for dippers and chewers.

As director of an FDA center, Zeller has a profound responsibility to enhance public health and adhere to scientific truth.  He damages his own credibility and that of his agency by making false statements.