Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Government’s Abstinence from Smokeless Truth Detailed by Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal on July 21 reported what readers of this blog already know: “Many scientists agree that…smokeless tobacco, including chewing and dipping tobacco, is significantly less harmful than cigarettes.  But rather than encouraging the country’s 37 million smokers to switch to less-risky products, U.S. health officials have so far stuck with an abstinence-only message to the public.”

Journalist Jennifer Maloney underscored the government’s withholding of relative risk information about smokeless tobacco: “Online fact sheets published by the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Cancer Institute list multiple health risks associated with smokeless tobacco…but give no indication it is less harmful than cigarettes. ‘There is no safe form of tobacco,’ the cancer institute says on its website.”

Scientific research says otherwise.  Although it is impossible to prove absolute safety, dozens of epidemiologic studies over three decades have documented that health risks among American chewers and dippers are not significantly elevated.  Last year, a government study failed to find any mouth cancer risk among men who chew or dip (here). 

The CDC claims that it is unable to provide risk estimates for smokeless users (here, here and here).  Yet researchers from Altria produced them from CDC data; these are seen in the chart above (source here).  Smokeless users’ risks were comparable to those of nonusers of tobacco, whereas smokers had twice the risk of dying.

That Altria was able produce these dramatic results from CDC’s data underscores the government’s refusal to acknowledge the scientific truth about smokeless tobacco’s reduced harm profile. That is irresponsible and contrary to public health interests.

Federal health officials told Maloney, “more research needs to be done on the potential population-level consequences of broadcasting the fact that some tobacco products are safer than cigarettes.” 

Such facts should not be withheld from the American public.  Here is the consequence of public health officials’ persistent obfuscation and mendacity:

There were 8.1 million smokeless users in 2014, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) (here), and 41% of them were also smokers.  This means that 3.36 million Americans are equally comfortable and satisfied using nearly harmless chew or dip, and smoking, which is deadly.  Government data shows that smokers have no idea that they are needlessly putting their lives at risk (here).  Federal agency leaders are aware of the differential risks, but choose not to push that potentially life-saving information to the public. 

The Wall Street Journal is to be applauded for helping to expose this transgression.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

United Kingdom Doubles Down on Support for Tobacco Harm Reduction

The United Kingdom Department of Health’s new position statement (here), “Towards a Smokefree Generation,” is, as Clive Bates wrote (here), “probably the first significant government policy paper anywhere that recognises and pursues the opportunities of tobacco harm reduction, rather than defining these technologies as a threat to be suppressed.  For that, the Department of Health and its allies deserve considerable credit.”


British health authorities have been telling smokers the truth about vaping since 2011 (as I have noted here, here, here and here), and British smokers have listened – the UK’s vaping population has ballooned to 2.9 million (here), while smoking has significantly declined.  In fact, a Public Health England official recently reported (here) that the UK smoking rate is now the second lowest in the European Union, after SWEDEN!

Meanwhile, the U.S. persists in advocating for a “tobacco-free society” and a “tobacco endgame,” demonizing smoke-free products with untruths and giving continuing life to urban anti-vaping myths.  The UK paper underscores this stark contrast.

“Towards a Smokefree Generation” sets forth the facts about e-cigarettes’ relative safety:

“… the evidence is increasingly clear that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful to health than smoking tobacco.”

The UK Department of Health promises to help smokers make the switch:

“The government will seek to support consumers in stopping smoking and adopting the use of less harmful nicotine products. Public Health England has produced guidance for employers and organisations looking to introduce policies around e-cigarettes and vaping in public and recommend such policies to be evidence-based.”

The paper dismisses the unfounded claim that second-hand vapor is a health threat:

“Public Health England recommends that e-cigarette use is not covered by smokefree legislation and should not routinely be included in the requirements of an organisation’s smokefree policy.”

Additionally, the document invites the introduction of new tobacco harm reduction products, an apparent reference to products like Philip Morris International’s heat-not-burn iQOS:

“… there has been the development and very recent introduction of novel tobacco products that claim to reduce the harm of smoking. We welcome innovation that will reduce the harms caused by smoking and will evaluate whether products such as novel tobacco products have a role to play in reducing the risk of harm to smokers.”

Concluding, the UK pledges:

“Public Health England will continue to provide smokers and the public with clear, evidence based and accurate information on the relative harm of nicotine, e-cigarettes, other nicotine delivery systems and smoked tobacco, to enable informed decision-making.”

American health authorities, are you listening?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Illogic of Condoning Vaping & Condemning Smokeless – Both Are Safer for Smokers

While many American tobacco researchers and policy experts have, of late, moved to endorse reasonable regulation of e-cigarettes and vaping, most persist in condemning smokeless tobacco products, which have been proven to be nearly harmless.  It is irrational to support one and prohibit the other, when both are legitimate harm reduction options for smokers.

The illogic of this dual position is displayed in the work of Dr. Dorothy Hatsukami, a prestigious tobacco researcher, author of 250 published articles (here) and recipient of tens of millions of dollars in NIH funding (available here, including $13 million to study reducing nicotine in cigarettes).  Dr. Hatsukami recently signed a letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb (here) and published an article in Tobacco Control (here).

In the letter to the commissioner, Dr. Hatsukami applauded his “openness to the concept of tobacco harm reduction…There is already a considerable body of science and experience suggesting that a harm reduction approach…could yield substantial and highly cost-effective public health benefits…at this time we do not believe that the current regulatory framework for the low-risk nicotine products such as e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco is appropriate or will deliver the substantial public health benefits we hope and expect FDA’s oversight will bring.”  The letter encouraged the FDA to regulate tobacco products according to risk and to “support informed choice through truthful communication of risk.”

However, in her Tobacco Control commentary, Dr. Hatsukami took a contrary view, fully endorsing the FDA’s proposed standard for NNN, which I have eviscerated here and here.  She wrote, “If [FDA] puts the proposed rule into effect, it would be a significant and important step towards minimising the harms from smokeless tobacco use.”  Surprisingly, she asserted that “the risk for oral cancer is considerably higher for smokeless tobacco users,” and cited a federal study documenting that American men who dip or chew tobacco have no mouth cancer risk (here).

Notably, other signatories to the Gottlieb letter are genuine tobacco harm reduction advocates who have endorsed the substitution of smoke-free tobacco by smokers.  They include Clive Bates of the UK and Canada’s David Sweanor, who filed a comment (here) labeling the NNN rule “reckless and pointless.”  American signatories who are on record about the relative safety of smokeless are Sally Satel (here and here), Kenneth Warner (here and here), David B. Abrams (here) and Raymond S. Niaura (here).