Two smoking hot stories about nicotine

Yesterday brought word from two continents of extraordinary government action — and absurd lies — regarding tobacco.

In the U.S., Judge Gladys Kessler announced a decision requiring tobacco companies to run advertisements and put notices on their product packages acknowledging that they deliberately misled the public about the health effects of so-called light cigarettes and the addictiveness of nicotine. The blurbs will include admissions from the companies that they were well-aware that nicotine was addictive when they claimed it was not and that low-tar and light cigarettes aren’t meaningfully safer to smoke than regular cigarettes.

The manufacturers responded by questioning the factual accuracy of the Judge’s statements. They say that they will appeal her ruling and then offer a higher court their own alternative statements for their products.

ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan comments: “The Judge’s actions are quite unprecedented. But she’s right on the facts. The tobacco companies have been knowingly making false claims since at least 1950, saying that willpower was all that was needed to quit smoking when they knew how addictive — highly addictive — nicotine really is. They’ve known exactly what they were doing. This may not get anyone else to quit, but it’s an important action marking a point in history and demanding that the companies own up to their record.”

Dr. Whelan particularly points to the industry’s so-called “Frank Statement.” Issued way back on January 4, 1954, it appeared as a paid ad in more than 400 newspapers and claimed that the manufacturers “believe[d] the products we make are not injurious to health.” The industry, of course, was already well-acquainted with the facts.

Meanwhile, in Sweden, word came that the country’s Social Affairs Minister, Goran Hagglund, had written to the E.U. to ask it to suspend its prohibitions on the sale of snus. Snus is a Swedish form of smokeless tobacco contained in a semi-permeable packet, which is distinct from snuff, or chewing tobacco. Studies have shown that it presents little health risk and that it can be an effective means to help cigarette smokers who have failed in their attempts to give up their lethal habit. Making these points, Hagglund asked the E.U. Commission to remove the ban on the sale of snus in other member countries.

Ironically, the Swedish National Institute of Public Health then criticized Hagglund’s letter, claiming there was little evidence of the safety of snus or its merits as a means to smoking cessation.

ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross says that this is simply not true and stands contrary to “the overwhelming body of evidence.” He adds:

The ban on snus in the EU is simply illogical and counterproductive from any point of view. Some may find it unpleasant, and some smokers will engage in dual use of snus and cigarettes, of course. But given the addictive power of smoking, the danger of second-hand smoke, and the abysmal success rate of approved cessation products something must be done to help the millions of addicted smokers quit. The objections are theoretical. But the people dying of lung (and other) cancers and a wide range of cardiovascular diseases are quite real. How can a ban be justified when deadly cigarettes are available on every street corner and schoolyard? Give smokers a break, remove the ban. I speak as a public health professional who had to quit 15 times before it “took".