Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Does Dual Use Jeopardize Smokeless Tobacco’s Role in Harm Reduction? Absolutely Not

One year ago, I briefly discussed the “dual use” of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco by men in the U.S. (post here). Dual use is the object of persistent complaints by American tobacco control extremists. For example, in 2002, Dr. Jack Henningfield, currently a member of the FDA tobacco products scientific advisory committee, was first author of a commentary describing theoretical adverse consequences of dual use (citation here). Despite his concerns, Henningfield acknowledged that “There are virtually no data that currently exist on the safety of such use or the degree to which such use will foster the perpetuation of smoking or contribute to reduced overall smoking…The issue warrants further study.”

That study has now been done, and the results have been published online in Nicotine & Tobacco Research (abstract available here). In a review of 17 published research studies that had data on the health risks from dual use versus those from smoking, almost all of which have appeared since 2002, Kimberly Frost-Pineda and colleagues conclude that “…there are not any unique health risks associated with dual use of smokeless tobacco products and cigarettes, which are not anticipated or observed from cigarette smoking alone.” The authors further commented that “some data indicate that the risks of dual use are lower than those of exclusive smoking.”

Frost-Pineda and colleagues also found evidence from both American and Swedish longitudinal studies that dual users were more likely than exclusive smokers to quit smoking, but less likely to become completely tobacco-abstinent. For example, one American study (abstract here) found that 11% of dual users were tobacco-abstinent after 4 years of follow-up, compared with 16% of exclusive smokers. However, 80% of exclusive smokers were still smoking at the 4-year follow-up, while only 27% of dual users were smoking; 44% were still dual users and 17% were exclusive smokeless users. The differences between smokers and dual users in Swedish follow-up studies are even more impressive.

This excellent review will present major problems for Henningfield and other FDA panelists, including Greg Connolly, Dorothy Hatsukami, Jonathan Samet and Neal Benowitz, because they have established solid records opposing tobacco harm reduction. Samet, the panel’s chair, summed up this opposition in a 2009 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (citation here ): “Snus, a moist snuff that is low in tobacco-specific nitrosamines, has received particular attention because it has been widely used in Sweden, apparently with little increase in risks for cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, there is concern that strategies to introduce lower-risk products will diminish efforts to promote prevention and cessation.”

For over 40 years, “prevention and cessation” efforts have largely failed. But tobacco prohibitionists continue to focus on those objectives, while raising a host of largely theoretical concerns about the substitution of smokeless tobacco for cigarettes. Now, scientific research shows that the “problem” of dual use is not a problem at all.

A final note: The authors of the dual use study are employees of Altria Client Services, which is owned by the parent company of Philip Morris and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco. They should be complimented for this contribution to the scientific literature on tobacco harm reduction. The editors of Nicotine and Tobacco Research deserve kudos for reviewing and publishing this manuscript.

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