Monday, December 22, 2014

High School Seniors’ Post Largest Ever Single-Year Decline in Smoking; E-Cigs May Have Played a Role

The Monitoring the Future survey shows that past 30-day cigarette use among 12th graders dropped from 16.3% in 2013, to 13.6% in 2014, the largest single-year decline in the survey's 39-year history (data here). 

The data show that 17% of 12th graders had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days in 2014, the first year this information was collected.

Good news included a decline in the percentages of high school seniors reporting alcohol use, being drunk and marijuana use in the past 30 days.

Instead of focusing on the historic drop in smoking, the media emphasized that more students had used e-cigarettes than traditional cigarettes.  However, Tim Worstall, a Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London, saw things differently, writing, “That vaping, at least so far as we know, is the most successful smoking cessation product any one has as yet invented (and do note that nothing else at all has halved teen [daily] smoking rates in only 5 years) means that we really shouldn’t be putting roadblocks in front of further adoption of the technology.” (here)   

Smoking prevalence among high school seniors has declined every year since 2007, about the time that e-cigarettes were introduced in the U.S.  With numbers like this, claims that e-cigarettes cause children to smoke are completely unfounded.  In fact, the evidence is strongly suggestive that e-cigarettes have played a role in this unprecedented decline in teen smoking.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

“For Smokers Only” Audiobook & Video Interview

If reading’s not your thing, you can now get the facts on smokeless tobacco and tobacco harm reduction via two new offerings – the audiobook version of my updated text, “For Smokers Only” (here) and a lively YouTube conversation on the issues with Darcy Compton, president of Mudjug (click on the video).

I started advocating for smokers to switch to vastly safer smokeless tobacco products some 20 years ago, when my research showed that health risks related to smokeless use were but a tiny fraction of those associated with smoking. 

My first journal articles caused an uproar.  A National Cancer Institute director called me “unethical” for suggesting that smokers switch, and I was attacked by outraged national dental associations and colleagues (here).  Their message was plain: do your research, but don’t tell smokers what I had discovered – that the claimed health risks of smokeless tobacco were largely fabricated, and the resulting misinformation was preventing smokers from considering a quitting option that worked. (My findings have since been widely duplicated and accepted.)

I resolved to devote my career to educating smokers about safer smoke-free products, and in 1995 I authored a book, “For Smokers Only: How Smokeless Tobacco Can Save Your Life.” 

Last year, my publisher released the ebook version, updated with a fresh chapter on e-cigarettes.  It’s available at Amazon (here), Barnes and Noble (here) and ITunes (here).  Now he’s issued the audiobook version, downloadable at (here).

Darcy Compton, California manufacturer of Mudjug portable spittoons (here), has developed a global online following.  His YouTube review of “For Smokers Only” has attracted some 225,000 visitors (here).  Darcy and I recently sat down for a lengthy conversation on all aspects of smokeless tobacco use. 

I am indebted to Darcy and Mudjug for their vocal support of my scientific findings and groundbreaking work in tobacco harm reduction. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

How Dangerous Is Snus? Don’t Ask New York Times Editors

The New York Times has added more fuel to the anti-tobacco-harm-reduction fire with a December 4 editorial (here) rehashing the somewhat slanted reporting that appeared in the paper’s news pages on November 30.  In two stories that day, the Times explored issues surrounding Swedish Match’s FDA application to change the warnings on its snus products.  As I noted (here), “The Times and their quoted experts did a major disservice to their audience; they failed to report the simple truth, that mouth cancer risk for Swedish snus is next to nil.”

The original warning labels that Congress ordered for tobacco product packages in 1986 were factually wrong and fatally misleading to smokers, chewers and dippers.  Congress didn’t make the warnings more accurate when  it ordered the FDA to regulate tobacco in 2009, it just made them cover more of the package – an action it didn’t take with cigarettes. 

The Times editorial acknowledged that snus is “is less harmful than smoking tobacco,” but it painted Swedish Match’s application as a marketing ploy.  That ignores the critical need to terminate government’s lie about products’ health risks.

The editors echoed tobacco prohibitionists in denying that snus played a role in the Swedish experience.  Said the Times, “reduced smoking rates and lower rates of tobacco-related diseases such as lung and oral cancer” in Sweden since the 1970s “is debatable,” attributing the successes to “various bans, restrictions and public health campaigns.”  The editors failed to consider that the reductions are exclusively seen in men – who use snus and have the lowest lung cancer rate in Europe – not in women, who rank fifth in Europe for lung cancer.

The Times acknowledged that their reporters had “cited independent experts who found that snus is not nearly as lethal as cigarettes,” but it added the qualifier “[snus] is not risk-free either, especially for users who also smoke.”  It is patently obvious that smoking is risky for anyone, including snus users.  It should also be obvious that a smokeless tobacco can labeled “this product is not a safe alternative to cigarettes” encourages smokers to stick with their habit.

The Times editors revisit the discredited gateway theory (“the danger is that snus might lead some nonsmokers and former smokers to…progress on to cigarette smoking”), but they ignore substantial evidence that this has not happened in Sweden (here) or in the U.S. (here).

Summing up, the Times observes: “abstention would be the safest approach.”  That might work in Neverland, but in the U.S., abstention was impossible for the 8 million smokers who died in the 20 years since I first described our government’s warnings as bogus.  That is no one’s definition of safe.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

How Dangerous is Swedish Snus? Don’t Ask The New York Times

The New York Times has published (here) a reasonably accurate portrayal of the Swedish snus experience that I have chronicled for over a decade (herehere,  and here).  Reporters Matt Richtel and David Jolly examined Swedish Match’s FDA application to remove the federally mandated mouth cancer and not-safe-alternative warnings from snus products.  I have discussed this landmark filing previously (here). 

In a companion piece (here) the paper tried to answer two important questions about snus and mouth cancer: “How accurate is the current warning? How dangerous is Swedish snus?” 

Despite a wealth of available information, the Times unfortunately failed to nail the answers, even after acknowledging that “Many studies have been done on the question (sic),..." but fretting that "...but as in many fields that involve complex questions and human subjects, the research is imperfect.” 

How is the research imperfect?  “For instance, some research concluding virtually no oral cancer risk from snus was funded by Swedish Match itself.”  The Times fell back on the old canard – the funder influenced the finding, despite total disclosure and high-quality peer review.  The paper failed to note that numerous studies, regardless of funding, show “virtually no oral cancer risk” for Swedish snus and American chew and dip.

The Times asked Kristin L. Sainani, a Stanford epidemiologist not involved in tobacco research, to examine the science.  She was remarkably indecisive:   “‘The weight of the evidence suggests a small increase’ in the risk of oral cancer with snus.  In Sweden, users of Swedish snus see virtually no increase in the rates of lip and oral cancer.”  In the end she made the correct call: virtually no increase. 

Dr. Sainani attempted to provide an anti-snus slant using double negatives: she said that “it is inconsistent with the evidence” to suggest that there is “absolutely no harm to an individual” from snus.  In essence, she repeated the no-win argument that snus can’t be proven absolutely safe.  That’s an irrational standard that many common foods couldn’t meet.

Dr. Sainani was asked by the Times to resolve the mouth cancer question, yet she is quoted on an entirely different matter: “In fact, she said, Swedish snus users face a doubling of risk of pancreatic cancer…”  It appears that Dr. Sainani exclusively used a 2008 review by Boffetta et al., which has been exposed as relying on cherry picked data (here). 

Is a snus pancreas cancer risk real?  No.  Five years ago I detailed how Boffetta fabricated the risk in 2008 (here), and, in 2011, Boffetta acknowledged that his earlier finding was wrong (here).  Sainani would have discovered this if she had compared the faulty Boffetta analysis with the most authoritative and comprehensive meta-analysis by Peter Lee and Jan Hamling (here), which found no pancreas cancer risk, in addition to no mouth cancer risk.
The Times article ended with Dr. Deborah Winn, deputy director of the division of cancer control at the National Cancer Institute.  Readers of this blog know that Dr. Winn launched the smokeless tobacco mouth cancer scare in 1981 (here and here).  While she is the NCI’s top authority on smokeless tobacco and cancer, she demonstrated an appalling disregard of facts in a 2010 congressional hearing (here).  In the Times article, her obfuscation continued:  “[Winn] considered Swedish snus to be ‘a form of smokeless tobacco,’ which, in general, she said, is generally ‘linked to mouth cancer…Swedish snus in the past has given you cancer, and at the current low levels, I don’t know,’ she said. ‘There could be some risk there.’”

The one data point Winn provided to the Times is false.  “She said studies done in the 1990s showed that users of Swedish snus in the 1970s faced a twofold increase in the risk of oral cancer.”  There were two studies of Swedish snus and mouth cancer published in 1998.  They concluded:

1.  “[Snus] was not found to be a risk factor for oral cancer in our study.” (here)
2.  “No increased risk [for head and neck cancer, including oral cancer] was found for the use of Swedish [snus].” (here)

The Times and their quoted experts did a major disservice to their audience; they failed to report the simple truth, that mouth cancer risk for Swedish snus is next to nil.