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Smoking Guns

July 21, 2010

More great news on the tobacco front:

A study recently published online by the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research finds that switching to snus (Swedish-style oral snuff) is by far the most popular method for quitting smoking in Norway. Furthermore, it is much more effective than using nicotine replacement products sold by pharmaceutical companies. Examining survey responses from about 1,800 current cigarette smokers and about 1,800 former smokers, researchers led by Karl Erik Lund of the Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research found that nearly one-third had used snus in their last quit attempt. They were almost three times as likely to have succeeded as the smokers who used the next most popular method, nicotine gum (used by 18 percent of the respondents). The only method that looked more effective than snus was varenicline (sold in the U.S. as Chantix), a prescription drug that is designed to block nicotine’s psychoactive effects (and that now carries a daunting FDA warning). Measured by abstinence rates, varenicline was about five times as effective as nicotine gum, but it was used by only 1 percent of the respondents.

Lund and his co-authors speculate that snus—which is banned in most of the E.U. but available in Norway, Sweden, and the U.S.—is more popular and more effective than the pharmaceutical products because “the nicotine dose is almost the same as for cigarettes,” because snus “tastes of tobacco and thus has a sensory effect that medicinal nicotine products perhaps lack,” and because “the choice of brand, aesthetic rituals of use, and visibility can represent social positioning and self presentation.” In short, snus is a closer substitute for cigarettes. Not surprisingly, people who quit smoking by switching to snus are also more likely to continue using the substitute than people who quit with nicotice replacement products. But since the hazards posed by snus are tiny compared to the hazards posed by cigarettes, the health benefit is undeniable—unless you are one of the many anti-smoking activists and public health officials who continue to deny or obscure this truth because you’re afraid of what consumers will do with the information.

Hooray, right?  Riiiiiiiight.  The problem, as usual, is that smokeless tobacco has to be marketed the same way that cigarettes are marketed — dip cans and chew bags have to say “Smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to cigarettes” on them — even though smokeless tobacco is a safer alternative to cigarettes.  The study concludes that “the banning or exaggerated opposition to snus in cigarette-rife environments is not sound public-health policy.”  Great.  Too bad that’s been the policy for so long now that only 11 percent of smokers think smokeless tobacco is a safer alternative.  As I wrote six months ago:

Anybody who’s ever talked to anybody who doesn’t use tobacco knows this.  They are wrong, and the word is impossible to get out because of 1) the FDA 2) those ludicrous “Truth” campaigns and whatnot and 3) the fact that smokeless tobacco cannot advertise itself as such because of the insane amount of liability they face as a result.  The data on incidences of oral cancer from smokeless tobacco users is undoubtedly skewed due to the fact that smoking cigarettes also increases the risk of oral cancer.  Would anybody who wants to take Philip Morris to the cleaners hesitate for a second to do the same for Copenhagen?

Depicting smokeless tobacco as a safer alternative to cigarettes is desirable goal that we will never have a chance to realize because of the mollycoddlings in power that think they can protect the citizenry from themselves.  The FDA needs to be dissolved.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 22, 2010 11:27 AM

    Glad to see someone else saying the right things!

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