Chewers Don’t Quit

Science, technology, and life.
March 10 2009 1:53 PM

Chewers Don’t Quit

 

Can smokeless tobacco coax people away from cigarettes?

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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I've written several posts defending that possibility. But a new report from the National Survey on Drug Use on Health blows a huge spitball of chaw all over the idea. Here's the key paragraph from Smokeless Tobacco Use, Initiation, and Relationship to Cigarette Smoking: 2002 to 2007 :

Combined 2004 to 2007 data indicate that, among persons who had used both smokeless tobacco and cigarettes in their lifetime, 31.8 percent started using smokeless tobacco first, 65.5 percent started using cigarettes first, and 2.7 percent initiated use of smokeless tobacco and cigarettes at about the same time ... Some initiates of smokeless tobacco use may be cigarette smokers who are substituting smokeless tobacco as a way to quit smoking. Among daily smokers who initiated smokeless tobacco use, 88.1 percent were still smoking daily 6 months later.

That's pretty damning. To begin with, smokeless tobacco seems to be luring people to cigarettes at nearly half the rate it's luring people from cigarettes. Not the world's greatest bargain. But the killer number is that 88 percent. If smokeless tobacco is just supplementing cigarettes instead of helping smokers quit, then it makes no sense as an avenue for improving public health.

Am I looking at the data the wrong way? Should I be more excited about the 12 percent who went smokeless and dumped the death sticks? Let me know .

I'm still open to alternative mechanisms for delivering nicotine and weaning people off smoking. But if the tobacco industry wants any slack in selling these products, it had better work on them until they show results in terms of smoking reduction. The fist of Big Brother is coming down on cigarettes all over the world . If you tobacco shareholders want a viable business model for the future, squeeze your company's executives harder to ditch the smoke and the carcinogens.

 

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