Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Medical Association in Denial on Smokeless Tobacco

A few weeks ago I highlighted misinformation about smokeless tobacco from the Mayo Clinic (here). The foolishness continues, this time from the American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery (here). Commonly called Ear, Nose and Throat specialists, or ENTs, these physicians are often involved in the treatment of oral and throat cancers. Regrettably, the Academy and spokesman Dr. Daniel Deschler are perpetuating myths about smokeless tobacco and harm reduction.

“Using smokeless tobacco products, like chew, is not a safe way to quit or a healthier alternative to smoking,” says Dr. Deschler in an Academy press release. He asserts that smokeless tobacco users run the same risks of gum disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, and addiction as cigarette users, but an even greater risk of oral cancer. Only one of these claims is true: Smokeless users are just as addicted to nicotine as smokers, and that is exactly why smokeless is an excellent alternative to cigarettes.

The reality is that smokeless users have almost no risks for gum disease, heart disease or high blood pressure. They certainly don’t have “an even greater risk for oral cancer” than smokers. This gross misstatement should not be made by a physician-spokesman for a professional medical society. As I have documented many times, the oral cancer risk for smokeless use is barely measurable in most epidemiologic studies, and negligible when compared with smoking.

Is the American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery deliberately misleading the public? In an effort to correct websites that had false and misleading information about smokeless tobacco, tobacco harm reduction colleagues at the University of Alberta sent a detailed letter to the Academy describing misinformation on its site and explaining why it was potentially harmful to inveterate smokers (read about it here). The organization never responded.

Patients believe their doctors make decisions based on sound science, not on moral judgments. Physicians and organizations that mischaracterize medical facts violate the sacred trust upon which our health care system is based. The American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery should correct its message.

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