Double Dipping on Cancer Risk
American Cancer Society Concerned Over Smokeless Tobacco Products Being Promoted as Safe Alternative to Cigarettes
New York, NY (January 7, 2011) — Tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds did a very unusual thing to mark the New Year holiday. They urged customers to resolve to quit smoking cigarettes in 2011. Was this an unusual fit of social consciousness? Not quite. Instead of cigarettes, the founder of Joe Camel suggested smokers to switch to smokeless tobacco as a “drama free” alternative. And that move has prompted a new round of discussion from health advocates, including the American Cancer Society, on exactly how “drama free” smokeless tobacco really is.
Teens, especially teenage boys are a growing target for smokeless tobacco makers.
Smokeless tobacco certainly isn’t “drama free” from a health standpoint. The American Cancer Society maintains on it’s website a list of more than a dozen serious health problems that can result from using these products including cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach and pancreas. Additionally, the World Health Organization, the National Cancer Institute and the U.S. National Toxicology Program have all issued strong reports warning on the adverse health effects of smokeless tobacco. The U.S. Surgeon General went so far as to say, point blank, that smokeless tobacco “is not a safe substitute for smoking cigarettes.”
But this hasn’t stopped some tobacco makers from suggesting the products are a better alternative to cigarettes. In fact just this month a Virginia company announced plans to ask the Food and Drug Administration for permission to market their brand of moist smokeless tobacco as a “safer” product.
“It's true that these products could, for some individuals, be less dangerous than smoking cigarettes, which are absolutely the most toxic way to get nicotine into your body,” said Russ Sciandra, New York State Director of Advocacy for the American Cancer Society, a national expert on the practices of big tobacco companies. “But anyone can see these are not safe products and there’s an added risk emerging. Many smokers won't substitute smokeless tobacco for cigarettes, but will use it as an additional nicotine source, perhaps in no-smoking environments. The impact could be more, not less, tobacco caused disease.”
That “double dipping” on risk is what has public health officials really troubled about the new focus on smokeless tobacco by cigarette companies. Recent studies show that while cigarette smoking among kids has declined dramatically in the last 10 years, smokeless tobacco use has actually been increasing. The data suggests youths are adding smokeless tobacco while continuing to use cigarettes. Furthermore, a report from last year discovered that more than a third of men over age 25 who used smokeless tobacco on some days also smoked cigarettes every day. The news was even worse for high school boys; they were five times more likely to also smoke half a pack of cigarettes per day compared to those who did not use smokeless tobacco.
The data, argue health advocates, paints a clear picture of the motives cigarette makers have when they urge people to switch to a smokeless product.
“Given its interest and history, I think we know what RJR expects will happen: they are looking to sell more snus AND more cigarettes, not to see people quit smoking,” said Sciandra. “Anyone who takes health advice from a tobacco company should have his head examined. And then his lungs. And heart.”
In 2009, the FDA was granted authority to oversee tobacco products for the first time. Regulations are current being crafted and revised by the Federal Government on what and how tobacco company can sell to the public. The controversy is a reminder, according to the American Cancer Society, on why FDA oversight was needed.
“We can't afford to let tobacco companies determine what's good for smokers. They long ago forfeited the right to give out health advice,” concluded Sciandra.
Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States. Each year, smoking accounts for an estimated 443,000 premature deaths – including 49,400 deaths among nonsmokers as a result of secondhand smoke. Tobacco use increases the risk of at least 15 types of cancer, and 30 percent of all cancer deaths.
It’s not easy to quit smoking. Studies have indicated that cigarettes are more addictive than heroin and the first three weeks after you quit are said to be the most difficult. If you stumble along the way to giving up smoking, don’t punish yourself. Just try again. The key is don’t give up. You can quit. We can help. For more information contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or log on to iwillquit.org.
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About the American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society combines an unyielding passion with nearly a century of experience to save lives and end suffering from cancer. As a global grassroots force of more than three million volunteers, we fight for every birthday threatened by every cancer in every community. We save lives by helping people stay well by preventing cancer or detecting it early; helping people get well by being there for them during and after a cancer diagnosis; by finding cures through investment in groundbreaking discovery; and by fighting back by rallying lawmakers to pass laws to defeat cancer and by rallying communities worldwide to join the fight. As the nations largest non-governmental investor in cancer research, contributing about $3.4 billion, we turn what we know about cancer into what we do. As a result, more than 11 million people in America who have had cancer and countless more who have avoided it will be celebrating birthdays this year. To learn more about us or to get help, call us anytime, day or night, at 1-800-227-2345 or visit cancer.org.