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Is smokeless tobacco a life-saving answer to nicotine addiction?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Smokeless tobacco could save lives, shows University of Louisville researchers.

Smokeless tobacco might be the answer to nicotine addiction that could save lives. That’s the conclusion of one researcher who says there’s scientific evidence to support that switching to smokeless products is 98 percent safer than cigarettes.

Because nicotine addiction is so difficult to cure, Brad Rodu, D.D.S., professor of medicine at the University of Louisville (UofL) School of Medicine and the Endowed Chair in Tobacco Harm Reduction at UofL’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center, suggests lives would be saved by focusing on reducing tobacco harm.

He says it’s possible to use tobacco products safely, and there’s scientific evidence to prove it.

“Nicotine is addictive, but it is not the cause of any smoking-related disease. Like caffeine, nicotine can be used safely by consumers,” Rodu said in a media statement.

Speaking at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Feb. 18, Rodu presented, “Harm Reduction: Policy Change to Reduce the Global Toll of Smoking-Related Disease”.

He says there is a consistent message to 45 million Americans to stop smoking or die.

“The truth, however, is that total nicotine and tobacco abstinence is unattainable and unnecessary for many smokers.”

Instead, he proposes smokers can mitigate the harm cause from tobacco by switching to e-cigarettes or spit-free smokeless tobacco. Though no tobacco is safe, Rodu backs up his claim by citing low rates of lung cancer in Sweden.

“Over the past 50 years, Swedish men have had Europe’s highest per capita consumption of smokeless tobacco as well as Europe’s lowest cigarette use. During the same time, they also have the lowest rate of lung cancer than men in any other European country.”

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The National Cancer Institute reports" Approximately 20% of Swedish men and about 2% of Swedish women use snus
daily. The number of women using snus is increasing."

He says tobacco harm reduction strategies delivered to the public may be a better approach for saving lives instead of “brutal” messages to stop smoking or perish.

According to a 2006 National Cancer Institute-funded study, 4 million people would switch to smokeless tobacco if public health messages were delivered “responsibly”.

Rodu also points out the American Council on Science and Health concluded in 2006 that tobacco harm reduction “shows great potential as a public health strategy to help millions of smokers.”

The researcher anticipates controversy from his suggestion. He says opponents are going to say smokeless tobacco products lead to oral cancer. Science, he says, doesn’t support that it’s so.

“The risk of mouth cancer among smokeless tobacco users is extremely low – certainly lower than the risk of smoking-related diseases among smokers,” he said.

“The annual mortality rate among long-term dry snuff users is 12 deaths per 100,000 and the rate among users of more popular snus, moist snuff and chewing tobacco is much lower. For perspective, the death rate among automobile users is 11 per 100,000 according to a 2009 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Compare those to the rate among smokers: more than 600 deaths per 100,000 every year.”

The notion that millions of nicotine addicted Americans would do better health wise by switching to smokeless tobacco products is something Rodu says is clearly shown by available data.

As far as smokeless tobacco causing mouth cancer, he says the risk is no greater than drivers dying from a motor vehicle accident. Switching from cigarettes to smokeless tobacco products would save millions of lives, according to the message from Brad Rodu, D.D.S., which he says, though controversial, is supported by scientific evidence.

University of Louisville
“UofL research shows substituting with smokeless tobacco saves lives”

Image credit: Wikimedia commons