Friday, October 23, 2009

Nonsense from the American Cancer Society

Last week, the New York City Council voted to ban all flavored tobacco products. While the ban excludes menthol cigarettes, it effectively prohibits many smokeless tobacco products that are vastly safer alternatives to cigarettes. This action means smokers who wish to quit without abstaining from nicotine will have fewer options available. That’s perfectly acceptable to tobacco prohibitionists, who claim that the law will prevent smoking by children, even though adolescent smokers overwhelmingly prefer unflavored cigarettes (see my post on flavored products, here).

On October 16, Jeff Stier, associate director of the American Council on Science and Health, wrote a commentary in the New York Post that was justifiably critical of the ban. Stier observed that smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes “are noncombustible, eliminating almost all smoking risks. They could be a lifesaver; the only reason to crack down is the ideology of the public-health movement, which has decided that anything that has tobacco in it, or even looks like a cigarette, must be illegal, even for sale to adult smokers trying to stop smoking.” Stier concluded that these types of “government actions will do nothing to protect kids. The only effect is to promote the most dangerous form of tobacco use, smoking cigarettes.” Stier’s comments reflect ACSH’s position as a relentless opponent of smoking, but a strong supporter of tobacco harm reduction.

On October 22, the American Cancer Society responded to Stier with a letter to the Post from Clare Bradley, Chief Medical Officer of the Eastern Division. What Dr. Bradley said was pure nonsense.

Dr. Bradley claims that “using snus does not eliminate the risk of lung cancer. Smokers who use smokeless tobacco as a supplemental source of nicotine in an effort to quit smoking actually increase their risk of lung cancer.” Is it possible that a Cancer Society official actually believes that smokeless tobacco increases the risk for lung cancer?

Dr. Bradley’s prescription for smokers desperate to quit: “The best way to quit smoking is not to start.” She tells smokers who may not be able to accomplish that task that “nicotine-replacement therapy [NRT], when paired with a program to help change behavior, is a proven cessation method.”

What is “proven” about NRT is that it works for only 7% of smokers who try it.

By opposing tobacco harm reduction, the American Cancer Society is working against the health and welfare of smokers.

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