Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Tainted Legacy

On August 19 David Abrams and Julia Cartwright wrote an article for the Huffington Post entitled “What’s Wrong With This Picture.” (here).

Dr. Abrams and Ms. Cartwright are what’s wrong with this picture.  They represent the Legacy Foundation, a billion dollar enterprise (here) aimed at “Helping people live longer, healthier lives without tobacco” (here).  This prohibitionist crusade is fueled by exaggerated claims of tobacco risks and gateway fantasies. 

For example, they write that “smokeless tobacco or ‘chew’ can also cause a long list of disfiguring and deadly oral cancers.”  This is false, as attested to in in the Legacy fact sheet on smokeless tobacco (here)*, which lists no specific health risks for those products. 

Asserting that “newer products have unknown risks and require more research,” Abrams and Cartwright ignore decades of research documenting that smokeless tobacco products produce barely measurable health risks. 

The writers of the column praise the European Union’s inclination to ban tobacco products, including snus, in every country except Sweden.  Yet they should know that snus use has been directly associated with record low smoking rates among men in Sweden: they smoke less and use more smokeless tobacco than in any other developed country.  And they have the lowest rates of lung cancer -- indeed, of all smoking-related deaths -- in the developed world.

Abrams and Cartwright claim that children are confused about “which products are candy and which ones are the real deal.”  This is a red herring.  The sale of tobacco products to children is prohibited in every state; FDA monitoring reveals that the vast majority of retailers are compliant (here).  If Legacy has evidence that tobacco manufacturers are marketing to children, those serious charges should be directed to states’ attorneys general.  Since the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, tobacco manufacturers have been prohibited from directly or indirectly targeting children.  Legacy should produce evidence and file a complaint; otherwise their accusations are specious.

Abrams and Cartwright write that smoking “…robs us of more than 440,000 lives, $96 billion in healthcare costs and an additional $97 billion in lost productivity costs each year.”  Yet their prohibitionist prescription would rob 45 million American smokers of vastly safer smoke-free alternatives.  The eight million Americans who will die from a smoking-related illness in the next 20 years are not children, they are today adults.  Preventing youth access to tobacco is important, but that can be accomplished without condemning to premature death those parents and grandparents who are current smokers.

*The publication date of this post was August 21, 2013.  On August 27 Legacy produced a new smokeless tobacco fact sheet and gave it a new web address.  The new fact sheet lists no specific health risks for smokeless tobacco use.


Rursus said...

The Legacy fact sheet on smokeless tobacco has been removed from the server.

Jerry Samuels said...

Some people are just so against smoking that they feel the need to make up exaggerated facts to attempt to get people to quit. And all it does is make them look idiotic for not giving proper facts.