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The article which was published on the website in November 2016, was titled, Quit the spit: Smokeless tobacco no better than lit. “ …putting in a dip or a chew can cause as much harm as lighting up cigarettes… ‘A lot of the effects smoking has on the body – causing blood vessels to narrow raising blood pressure and causing several cancers – are the same for smokeless tobacco,’ said Air Force Col. Thomas Moore, a preventive medicine doctor and in charge of health promotions for the Air Force Medical Support Agency… ‘You’re really not gaining anything by giving up cigarettes just to put in a load of chew,’ said Moore,”  read the article, wrongly stating that chewing tobacco is as harmful as smoking.

Misinformation detrimental to those seeking reduced harm alternatives

Luckily the article caught the eye of Brad Rodu, a Professor of Medicine and Endowed Chair of Tobacco Harm Reduction Research at the University of Louisville. In an article published last week on R. Street, Professor Rodu said that he took immediate action by sending an email to Colonel Moore to point out the inaccuracies.

“These passages send the clear, unmistakable and completely false message to military personnel that smokeless tobacco use is just as dangerous as smoking.  Numerous scientific studies published over the past 20 years provide indisputable evidence that smokeless-tobacco use is vastly safer than smoking.  For example, a 2002 report by the British Royal College of Physicians, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious medical societies, stated ‘As a way of using nicotine, the consumption of noncombustible [smokeless] tobacco is on the order of 10-1,000 times less hazardous than smoking, depending on the product.’

“Numerous scientific studies published over the past 20 years provide indisputable evidence that smokeless-tobacco use is vastly safer than smoking.”Professor Brad Rodu

Your just-as-dangerous message may be considered a breach of medical ethics.  A 2004 study authored by a panel of international tobacco research and policy experts concluded: ‘… [smokeless] products pose a substantially lower risk to the user than do conventional cigarettes.  This finding raises ethical questions concerning whether it is inappropriate and misleading for government officials or public health experts to characterize smokeless tobacco products as comparably dangerous with cigarette smoking.’

Rodu hopes that this new found awareness about the differences between cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, will translate into sensible regulations pertaining to the products.
Members of our armed forces put their lives on the line every day.  The Military Health System and the Defense Health Agency should show them respect by giving them truthful information about tobacco use.  There is a lot at stake.  In another 2007 report the Royal College concluded ‘…that smokers smoke predominantly for nicotine, that nicotine itself is not especially hazardous, and that if nicotine could be provided in a form that is acceptable and effective as a cigarette substitute, millions of lives could be saved.’

I urge you to promptly retract the article or issue a substantial revision to reflect the indisputable evidence that smokeless tobacco use is vastly safer than smoking.  Please let me know if I can provide any additional information to facilitate this action.  I appreciate your prompt response to my request.

Is taking down an email enough?

Colonel Moore never responded to Rodu’s email, hence the the professor sent a similar email to U.S. Air Force Surgeon General Mark Ediger. The latter prompted a reply from Maj. Gen. Roosevelt Allen Jr., Director of Medical Operations and Research in the Office of the Surgeon General, who admitted that Professor Rodu’s observations were correct and that he would “see if it is possible to post a clarification of the article on the Health.mil site.”

“There is a lot at stake. In another 2007 report the Royal College concluded ‘…that smokers smoke predominantly for nicotine, that nicotine itself is not especially hazardous, and that if nicotine could be provided in a form that is acceptable and effective as a cigarette substitute, millions of lives could be saved.”Professor Brad Rodu

Ultimately the misleading article was taken off the website. Professor Rodu concluded his article about the matter by pointing out that while it is clear that the officials at the Defense Health Agency are now aware of the differences between cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, he hopes that this knowledge will translate into sensible regulations pertaining to the products “at the Defense Department and beyond.”