Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Camel Dissolvables and Anti-Tobacco Dissembling

On December 20, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company announced that it was discontinuing Camel Dissolvable test marketing in Indianapolis, Columbus, Ohio and Portland, Oregon (here). The response from Matthew Myers (here), president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, speaks volumes about the U.S. anti-tobacco crusade’s faulty logic.

According to Myers, “The Camel dissolvable products appeal to children in that they are easily concealed and colorfully packaged, shaped and flavored to resemble mints or gum.” He ignores the fact that dissolvables are tobacco products and are thus subject to a complete sales prohibition to anyone under 18 years in all 50 states.

Myers also blamed tobacco manufacturers for an increase in smokeless tobacco use by children: “Most troubling, the most recent data on youth tobacco use, included in the Monitoring the Future Survey released just last week, shows a significant increase in smokeless tobacco use among high school students. Among 12th graders, 8.5 percent used smokeless tobacco in 2010, a 39 percent increase since 2006…The increase in smokeless tobacco use also comes as some smokeless manufacturers have sought to portray their products as a less hazardous alternative to cigarettes.”

Myers’s use of the Monitoring the Future Survey was very creative. Why use 2006 as a comparison year? Because in 2006, smokeless tobacco prevalence was unusually low – in fact, the lowest in the 25-year history of the survey. This makes the 8.5 percent prevalence in 2010 seem like a substantial increase. Actually prevalence was 8.4% in 2009 and 1999, and even higher before that.

It is disingenuous for Myers to blame manufacturers for tobacco use by teenagers. While it’s true that 8.5% of 12th graders used smokeless tobacco and 19.2% smoked cigarettes in 2010, 21.4%, smoked marijuana. What industry does Myers hold responsible for marijuana use among children?

Teenage substance use fluctuates, which permits zealots to cherry-pick findings for dramatic, but highly misleading, story lines. If tobacco use is down, zealots take credit; if tobacco use rises, they blame industry.

Gandhi said an error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Tobacco opponents continue to dissemble on harm reduction and the risks associated with smokeless tobacco. But the facts endure, and they will continue to sustain a transformation in nicotine and tobacco use.

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