More myth-busting: Dissolvable tobacco and scary labels

An article in the current issue of TIME magazine poses the question, How Safe is Tobacco that Melts in Your Mouth? They are referring, of course, to new dissolvable tobacco products currently being assessed by the FDA. Since R.J. Reynolds, America's second largest tobacco company, has begun selling new products, such as Camel Sticks, Orbs and Strips, in Colorado, public health officials are worrying that these dissolvable tobacco products may have a candy-like appeal for children and teenagers. But Richard Smith, spokesman for R.J. Reynolds, counters that, by consistently referring to these products as candy or mints, those same officials are irresponsibly perpetuating false and misleading information.

Some anti-tobacco zealots bizarrely allege that the health risks associated with dissolvable tobacco are as harmful as those associated with cigarettes, yet all scientific evidence points to the contrary.

Fortunately, ACSH advisor Dr. Brad Rodu, professor of medicine at the University of Louisville and author of our recently published update on tobacco harm reduction, points out why these, and other allegations about dissolvable tobacco products, are illogical and unfounded:

As a smokeless product, dissolvable tobacco is 98% safer than smoking. In fact, the risk of death from long-term smokeless use is about the same as that from automobile use. Cigarette smokers are routinely misinformed by government agencies and by anti-tobacco extremists about the relative safety of smokeless products. Anti-tobacco crusaders claim that these products are attractive to teenagers. But this allegation is disingenuous, because tobacco marketing and sales to children are prohibited ¦Most importantly, the 8 million Americans and 105,000 Coloradans who will die from smoking in the next 20 years are not children today; they are adults, 35 years and older. If any other consumer product was killing five thousand Coloradans every year, society would demand safer alternatives, and it would be scandalous if consumers were denied them. Vastly safer Camel dissolvables should be permitted to compete with deadly cigarettes.

And, while using dissolvable tobacco products is likely an effective way to help our nation s 45 million addicted smokers quit cigarettes, emblazoning the packs with graphic warning labels seems not to be. In his TobaccoAnalysis blog, Dr. Michael Siegel, professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at Boston University s School of Public Health, reports on the results of a recent study from the National Centre for Social Research and the Institute for Social Marketing at the University of Sterling, U.K., which concludes that graphic warning labels in England have no effect on cigarette smoking. Researchers conducted surveys prior to the addition of warning labels to cigarette packs in October 2008, and again in the summer of 2010, but observed no change in the prevalence of cigarette smoking, consumption, or reduction. The only noticeable effect was that more adult smokers were making a deliberate effort to avoid viewing the health warning messages.

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross is not at all surprised by the findings. Even the FDA s own research didn t confirm that graphic warning labels mandated in Canada ten years ago had any beneficial effect on smoking cessation or initiation. He adds, Now we just have more evidence from the U.K. that this policy is ineffective.