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Louisville professor: Smoke-free option is one Oklahoma should consider to reduce tobacco harm

BY BRAD RODU Published: September 30, 2012

A quit-smoking strategy with “the potential to save millions of lives” will be the subject of an Oklahoma legislative hearing Wednesday. At issue will be tobacco harm reduction, which aims to reduce Oklahoma's 5,800 deaths per year due to smoking.

The strategy is based on science: smokers who have been unwilling or unable to quit can achieve nearly all the health benefits of abstinence by switching to smoke-free cigarette substitutes, including snus, dissolvables and electronic cigarettes.

By eliminating smoke, these products minimize health risks. They satisfy smokers' nicotine cravings, making them effective cigarette substitutes. Nicotine, like caffeine, is addictive, but it doesn't cause smoking-related diseases.

Decades of medical research prove that smokeless tobacco use is at least 98 percent safer than smoking. Claims about smokeless risks are often wildly exaggerated. In truth, all health risks from smokeless tobacco, including that for oral cancer, are so low as to be barely measurable. Statistically, smokeless tobacco consumers have about the same risk of dying from its use as automobile users have of dying in a car accident.

Tobacco harm reduction is saving lives in Sweden, where men smoked less and used more smokeless tobacco — Swedish snus — over the past century than in any other Western country. The result: Swedish men have the lowest rates of lung cancer — indeed, of all tobacco-related deaths — in the developed world. The Swedish snus experience is not only about men; increasing numbers of Swedish female smokers are switching to spit-free, socially acceptable snus products.

In the United States, tobacco prohibitionists demand total abstinence. They argue that giving adult smokers access to smoke-free products threatens children's health. But Oklahoma is eliminating youth access to tobacco. This year, based on some 1,100 retail inspections statewide, the FDA reported 97.6 percent compliance.

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