A World Without Cigarettes

Group acknowledges smokeless products are option for reducing health risks

WASHINGTON -- Twenty-six of the nation's leading tobacco control researchers and policy experts have called for regulatory control of all tobacco products. They also called for policies that encourage current tobacco users to reduce their health risks by switching from the most to the least harmful nicotine-containing products. This group met in a two-year process they called The Strategic Dialogue on Tobacco Harm Reduction. Their vision: a world in which virtually no one uses cigarettes. But the group acknowledged that smokeless-tobacco products are an option for reducing health [image-nocss] risks for tobacco users.

The Dialogue was jointly funded by the American Legacy Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Minnesota Tobacco Use Research Center. Dialogue members met four times between December 2005 and August 2007.

Prominent among the group's recommendations are:
Regulation of all aspects of promotion, advertising and labeling of tobacco products. Prohibition of claims touting reductions in exposure to harmful components in tobacco or smoke unless there is sufficient scientific evidence that risk has been reduced as well. Regulation of harmful compounds in all tobacco products. Accurate education of the public regarding the relative risks of different nicotine-containing products. Higher taxes on cigarettes. Expanded anti-tobacco advertising. Strong programs to encourage and support tobacco cessation. In addition, the Dialogue embraced the concept known as the "continuum of risk." This principle unified Dialogue participants with differing views on more controversial issues, such as the appropriate role of oral tobacco products. The Dialogue acknowledged that cigarettes are the most harmful tobacco product and that, under the continuum, medicinal nicotine products such as nicotine gum and patches are less harmful than oral tobacco products.

Dialogue members also identified several issues requiring further research before policy changes could be recommended. These issues involve questions, such as whether reducing the nicotine content of cigarettes to non-addicting levels would likely lead to a reduction in smoking prevalence, and what are the key issues surrounding long-term use of safer nicotine-containing products?

The group acknowledged for the first time yesterday that smokeless-tobacco products are an option for reducing health risks for tobacco users, according to The Winston-Salem Journal. What makes the study pivotal is that "oral tobacco products" were listed as part of a potential middle ground between cigarettes and such nicotine-cessation products as gum and patches.

The study's results are aimed at "helping tobacco users who are unable or unwilling to quit to shift to the least harmful nicotine products" and providing an "accurate education of the public regarding the relative risks of different nicotine-containing products."

Smokeless products are drawing support from some anti-smoking groups as a less-hazardous way to consume tobacco, said the report.

Those groups, as well as Reynolds American Inc., a leading manufacturer in smokeless products, want any proposed regulation of tobacco products by the FDA to allow for the marketing of smokeless products as having a reduced risk when compared with cigarettes.

(See related story in this issue of CSP Daily News on impending U.S. Food & Drug Administration regulation of tobacco.)

The proposed FDA bill does not carve out that niche for smokeless tobacco. U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) is considering introducing an alternative regulation bill that would contain that distinction.

"Sen. Burr is supportive of the continuum-of-risk concept to move smokers from combustible tobacco products to less harmful, no-combustible tobacco products, and supports giving adult consumers the information needed to make informed decisions concerning the use of tobacco products," Chris Walker, a spokesperson for Burr., told the newspaper. "However, Sen. Burr supports establishing a new agency under the Department of Health & Human Services to regulate tobacco, rather than granting the already overburdened FDA regulatory authority over tobacco products."

Maura Payne, a spokesperson for Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Reynolds, told the paper that the consensus on incorporating a continuum of risk in tobacco-regulation legislation "is a significant step and one we endorse. The legislation pending in Congress does not address this concept and should be changed to recognize its importance in reducing disease and death from tobacco use."

Bill Godshall, the executive director of SmokeFree Pennsylvania, told the paper that the group's announcement is "a huge step toward sound tobacco policy as Congress prepares to consider FDA tobacco-regulatory legislation."

Major American tobacco manufacturers are putting more emphasis on smokeless products, such as snuff and snus, to gain market share and sales as the smoking rate among adults declines, said the report.