NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Second-Hand Lies About Tobacco

May 7, 2004

While ignoring substantial evidence that the risks of tobacco product use can be cut drastically by switching from cigarettes to smokeless tobacco, public health officials are quick to embrace spurious research that supports their unsubstantiated claim that second-hand tobacco smoke is a major carcinogen.

According to Sally Satel of the American Enterprise Institute:

  • During a six-month ban on smoking in public places, the heart-attack rate in Helena, Montana, dropped by almost half -- from an average of seven heart a month to just four -- and in the six months following the lifting of the ban sprang back to seven a month.
  • However, this is likely due to natural variations in this small-town's heart attack rate, since second-hand smoke exposure declined 75 percent nationwide during the 1990s with no corresponding fall in heart-attack rates.  

Nevertheless, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control heralded the finding, and the Washington Post blared, "Second Hand Smoke Poses Heart Attack Risk, Warns the CDC."

Meanwhile, replicated, large-scale studies show that switching to smokeless tobacco can dramatically reduce the health risks to smokers. In Sweden, for example:

  • Although 40 percent of men use tobacco products, Swedes have the lowest rate of lung cancer in the European Union.
  • This is largely because moist snuff represents half of all the tobacco that Swedish men use. (The other half smoke.)
  • Risks of mouth cancer, depending on the smokeless product used, range from negligible for snuff to half the risk associated with smoking, for products like chewing-tobacco.

Despite the evidence, the U.S. surgeon general told Congress that "there is no significant scientific evidence that suggests smokeless tobacco is a safer alternative to cigarettes."

Source: Sally Satel (American Enterprise Institute), "Where There's Smoke," Wall Street Journal, May 7, 2004.

For WSJ (requires subscription),,SB108388834929204805,00.html


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