Should the government of Oklahoma help tobacco companies market their products? Most of us would think that's ridiculous, yet it's exactly what the tobacco companies and their allies are pressing the Legislature to do.
Unfortunately, this bad idea is being taken seriously enough that a legislative committee held a hearing recently on promoting smokeless tobacco as an alternative to cigarettes. In “Smoke-free option is one to consider” (Point of View, Sept. 30), Brad Rodu, a researcher funded by the tobacco industry, argued for a “harm reduction” strategy encouraging smokers to switch to smokeless tobacco to reduce their health risks.
There's little evidence that this tobacco industry scheme reduces smoking. In fact, there is considerable risk it would backfire and encourage more tobacco use, including among children. The result would be more tobacco-caused death and disease.
Rather than support a risky and unproven approach, the goal should be to implement scientifically proven measures to reduce tobacco use — higher tobacco taxes, strong smoke-free policies and effective programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit.
The same tobacco companies pushing “harm reduction” have done everything they can to defeat efforts to reduce tobacco use. Their goal isn't to reduce the harm caused by tobacco. It's to sell more tobacco products by preventing current customers from quitting and addicting new ones.
Oklahoma should act to protect kids and health, not tobacco industry profits. Smokeless tobacco harms health and is not a safe alternative. The National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the U.S. Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service have concluded that smokeless tobacco products sold in the United States are addictive and cause serious disease, including cancer.
Smokeless tobacco isn't an effective method of quitting smoking. The U.S. Public Health Service has stated that “the use of smokeless tobacco products is not a safe alternative to smoking, nor is there evidence to suggest that it is effective in helping smokers quit.” In fact, new smokeless tobacco products are being marketed as a way to get a nicotine fix when smokers can't smoke, which discourages smokers from quitting.
The tobacco companies have long marketed smokeless tobacco to kids and successfully transformed smokeless tobacco from a product used by older men to one used by boys and young men. Smokeless tobacco use by Oklahoma high school boys is more than 40 percent higher than the national rate. Surely we don't want to send the message to kids that smokeless tobacco is safe or acceptable.
If tobacco companies want to promote smokeless tobacco to help smokers quit, or claim a tobacco product is less harmful, they should follow established federal Food and Drug Administration procedures. They haven't. Oklahoma shouldn't be helping tobacco companies market their harmful and addictive products. We should be working to protect kids and save lives.
McGoldrick is vice president for research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.