Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Blowing Smoke About Tobacco

"Tobacco: deadly in any form or disguise" is the slogan of the World Health Organization's World No Tobacco Day tomorrow. The claim is false: Tobacco is not deadly; the harm is in the smoke. A policy that confuses innocuous tobacco with harmful smoke is responsible for millions of avoidable deaths each year worldwide.

More than 430,000 U.S. deaths each year -- one out of every five -- can be attributed to smoking. This is 10 times our death rate from car crashes, 30 times the rate from AIDS.

Cigarette smoke is a deadly delivery device for a benign but habit-forming product: nicotine. Nicotine isn't especially dangerous -- about like caffeine. Good policy toward tobacco use would reduce the grave harm of smoking by replacing cigarettes with non-smoked forms of nicotine for the addicts.
I had always wondered if it was the smoke or the nicotine that caused the cancer. I guess it is the smoke. I had never heard that nicotine is only as dangerous as caffeine.
As Carl V. Phillips, an epidemiologist at the University of Alberta, has shown, evidence points to a low risk of health hazards stemming from smokeless-tobacco use. That includes virtually no evidence of risk of oral cancer. Phillips's calculations show that total mortality from "smokeless" is about a hundreth of that from smoking.
I hadn't realized that chewing tobacco had no evidence of an increased risk of oral cancer. The article also suggests that we should try and move smokers to use patches and gums, but increase the amount of nicotine in them so heavy smokers could switch over right away without any withdrawal symptoms.

These are interesting ideas that I had never heard of before. We could certainly save a lot of lives by switching to this approach if nicotine really isn't that dangerous.

via The Washington Post


Carl V Phillips said...

If you would like to learn more about this, check out our new website, www.TobaccoHarmReduction.org, particularly the FAQ.

Carl V Phillips, Associate Professor, University of Alberta School of Public Health

Gene Borio said...

All is not quite as pat as it may seem. To get a fuller accounting of the important "harm reduction" debate, see this collection of stories: http://www.tobacco.org/articles/category/harmreduction/

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