NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 20, 2006

For decades, public-health officials have been warning people about the dangers of smokeless tobacco.  Now there is debate over whether smokers should be informed about smokeless tobacco as a way to quit smoking, says the Wall Street Journal.

A growing body of research -- some of it funded by smokeless tobacco purveyors -- shows that smokeless tobacco is much less harmful than cigarettes, says the Journal.  For example:

  • A National Cancer Institute study examined low-nitrosamine -- the primary carcinogen -- smokeless tobacco and concluded that it posed at least a 90 percent reduction in health risks compared with smoking.
  • A 2002 statement from Britain's Royal College of Physicians, which sets standards in the U.K., called smokeless tobacco "10 to 1,000 times less hazardous than smoking, depending on the product."

There is also evidence that smokeless tobacco can be used as a tool for quitting smoking. In Sweden, many male smokers have switched to smokeless tobacco, and most results show an improvement in health:

  • Swedish men boast the lowest death rate from lung cancer in Europe.
  • By contrast, Swedish women, who smoke at rates nearly commensurate with the rest of Europe, have one of the continent's highest lung-cancer rates.
  • Research in Sweden has found no association between smokeless tobacco consumption and oral cancer.
  • However, some epidemiologists believe that one study in Sweden -- which concluded that no risk existed -- does show an increased mouth-cancer risk for users.

But while switching from cigarettes to virtually any smokeless tobacco on the U.S. market would bring about a reduction in risk for cancer and heart disease, brands vary widely in the amount of nitrosamines they contain, say the Journal.  And unfortunately, those with the lowest levels -- and hence the lowest risks -- are the least available.

Source: Kevin Helliker, "Should Snuff Be Used as a Tool To Quit Smoking?" Wall Street Journal, September 16, 2006.

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