As a pathologist working at two large medical centers, I have studied the effects of smoking on health for over 20 years. I’ve published scores of papers on the impressive benefits of switching from cigarettes to safer, non-combustible forms of tobacco (such as Swedish snus). This strategy – called tobacco harm reduction – has vast potential for improving public health.
The contrast between the spin put on youth e-cigarette use data last Fall and the story told by the actual data, released last month, is startling but not surprising, given the U.S. government’s over-zealous tobacco prohibition posture.
Publishing a study of tobacco-specific nitrosamines in American smokeless tobacco products (abstracthere), Dorothy Hatsukami and colleagues at the University of Minnesota called for the FDA to issue “regulations…to reduce levels of…NNK and NNN in smokeless tobacco products to the lowest levels possible.” The authors make illogical and unscientific claims in their article and media interviews (here).
The New England Journal of Medicine yesterday published a letter claiming that vapor contains “hidden” formaldehyde at far higher levels than cigarettes (here), which made headlines worldwide. That conflicts with a report I discussed last week, documenting that formaldehyde levels in e-cigarettes were far lower than those in traditional cigarettes (here).
Recently I attended a forum on e-cigarettes, sponsored by a political organization that wanted to educate its attendees about the devices. During the discussion my opponent [from the prohibitionist American Legacy Foundation] repeated the baseless claim that there is no evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers quit.
The New York Times has added more fuel to the anti-tobacco-harm-reduction fire with a December 4 editorial (here) rehashing the somewhat slanted reporting that appeared in the paper’s news pages on November 30. In two stories that day, the Times explored issues surrounding Swedish Match’s FDA application to change the warnings on its snus products. As I noted (here), “The Times and their quoted experts did a major disservice to their audience; they failed to report the simple truth, that mouth cancer risk for Swedish snus is next to nil.”
The New York Times has published (here) a reasonably accurate portrayal of the Swedish snus experience that I have chronicled for over a decade (here, here, andhere). Reporters Matt Richtel and David Jolly examined Swedish Match’s FDA application to remove the federally mandated mouth cancer and not-safe-alternative warnings from snus products. I have discussed this landmark filing previously (here).
The British government has just released statistics on e-cigarette use (here). The Office for National Statistics reports that e-cigarettes were used by 12% of smokers and 5% of former smokers in the UK during the first quarter of this year, but the rate of use among never smokers was only 0.14%.
Swedish researchers from several institutions document that snus use is not associated with atrial fibrillation (commonly known as AFib), the most common heart arrhythmia (irregular timing of the heart beat) and a risk factor for stroke (abstract here). The same group previously reported that snus use conferred no significant risk for heart attack (discussed here) and stroke (here).
One of Sunday’s most controversial Super Bowl ads came with the message “Friends don’t let friends smoke.” Bizarrely, it’s organized anti-smokers in the public-health establishment who want the commercial banned.