22 Mar 2012 FDA Science Panel: Dissolvable Tobacco Could Reduce Disease
Kudos to a key Food and Drug Administration science panel for recognizing that tobacco users who switch from cigarette smoking to dissolvable products could reduce their health risks.
As reported by the Associated Press,
A Food and Drug Administration scientific advisory panel says dissolvable tobacco products could reduce health risks compared with smoking cigarettes but also have the potential to increase the overall number of tobacco users.
Dissolvable tobacco is finely milled tobacco pressed into shapes like tablets that slowly dissolve in a user’s mouth. It is gaining the attention of tobacco companies looking to make up for a decline in cigarette use as smokers face tax hikes, growing health concerns, smoking bans and social stigma.
A major caveat in the report is that the availability of dissolvable tobacco products could increase the overall number of tobacco users. Fair enough. But so long as those tobacco users are using non-combustible products such as dissolvable tobacco, rather than cigarettes, this could actually be a boon for public health.
Smokeless products are so much less harmful than cigarettes that even if there were more total tobacco users, the total amount of disease and death caused by tobacco use would decline dramatically because of the shift to far less risky products. This is one of the points I made when I testified at one of the scientific advisory meetings that led to this report. I’d rather see more tobacco users and less illness. Yes, even if that meant more profits for tobacco companies. I doubt most anti-tobacco activists would be willing to agree.
Yes, I would have liked a more forceful endorsement of this “harm reduction” concept. For instance, the panel wrote,
Given the substantial uncertainties and the potential for either risks or benefits, the TPSAC (Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee) could not reach a conclusion as to the potential point of balance between potential risks and benefits of DTPs (dissolvable tobacco products) on public health.
No, there may not be enough data to pinpoint where that fulcrum is, but there should be little doubt that the benefits of a tobacco harm reduction policy far outweigh the risks.
There’s plenty more to the issue, much if which I addressed in a piece in the Hoover Institution’s journal, Defining Ideas, yesterday.