Replacing cigarettes with smokeless tobacco reduces disease risk, says U of L prof who’s received tobacco-industry funding

Smokers can greatly reduce their risk of disease if they replace their cigarettes with spit-free smokeless tobacco or electronic cigarettes, University of Louisville professor Brad Rodu, right, said in a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science last week. It’s the same message residents of Owensboro heard in an advertising campaign with which Rodu was involved late last year, one partly funded with grants from the tobacco industry.

“Quit or die: That’s been the brutal message delivered to 45 million American smokers, and it has helped contribute to 443,000 deaths per year,” Rodu said in a U of L press release. “The truth, however, is that total nicotine and tobacco abstinence is unattainable and unnecessary for many smokers.”

Rodu’s 20 years of research has reportedly shown that e-cigs and smokeless tobacco are relatively safe alternatives for smokers who can’t or are unwilling to quit nicotine. “Nicotine is addictive, but it is not the cause of any smoking-related disease,” he said. “Like caffeine, nicotine can be used safely by consumers.”

Research has shown smokeless products are 98 percent safer than cigarettes, the press release states. A 2002 study in the United Kingdom found smokeless tobacco to be up to 1,000 times less hazardous than smoking.

As for whether smokeless tobacco can contribute to mouth cancer, Rodu said the risk “is extremely low.” “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 the 2009 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Compare those to the rate among smokers: more than 600 deaths per 100,000 per year.” (Read more)

The Oral Cancer Foundation’s website says about 37,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year and cause about 8,000 deaths. The foundation does not support the contention that smokeless tobacco is “safe.” “Promoted by some as a safer alternative to smoking, it has in actuality not proven to be any safer to those who use it when referring to oral cancers,” the website reads. “Campaigns to promote the safety of smokeless are being initiated, but it is clear that while it may reduce lung cancers, it has a negative effect on the rates of oral cancers.”

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