New Surgeon General Should Condemn Smokeless Tobacco Use, Say Health Advocates
WASHINGTON, July 29 /PRNewswire/ -- Leading health advocates today asked Dr. Richard Carmona, the new U.S. Surgeon General, to help stop smokeless tobacco use. The letter comes in response to a recent request by the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company (UST) to
Health advocates, including Oral Health America, the American Lung Association, the American Dental Education Association, and former baseball star and Chairman of the National Spit Tobacco Education Program (NSTEP), Joe Garagiola, informed Carmona that approval of UST's request would send the wrong message to today's youth. In their letter, the group indicated, "As the tobacco industry steps up its efforts to market alternatives to cigarettes, it is more important than ever that we spread the word that just because a product is labeled "smokeless" that it is not a harmless or safe alternative to smoking."
"We must be diligent in reducing, not increasing tobacco use by America's youth," said Robert Klaus, President of Oral Health America. "By reinforcing the risks of using spit tobacco, Surgeon General Carmona can instantly increase awareness among children of the negative health effects associated with all types of tobacco use."
Since the 1980s, Surgeons General have concluded that smokeless tobacco products are a cause of serious disease. At a minimum, spit tobacco users have a 300% greater risk of getting oral cancer than nonusers. Carmona's confirmation comes on the heels of a promise from President Bush indicating that the next Surgeon General would focus on prevention and life-long healthy living as a key component to medical care.
Oral Health America is the nation's premier, fully independent organization dedicated to improving oral health. A copy of the letter to Richard Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., FACS, Surgeon General, United States Public Health Service, follows:
We welcome you as the Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service. It is an office that all of our organizations regard with the greatest respect and have worked with on countless occasions. Your appointment comes at a time when our nation needs strong leadership on many fronts. Your leadership and influence can be effective in championing trusted information on the known health risks of spit (smokeless) tobacco.
Since the 1980s, Surgeons General have concluded that smokeless tobacco products are a cause of serious disease and are not a safe alternative to cigarettes. In fact, spit tobacco users have a 4 times greater risk of getting oral cancer than nonusers and as high as 50 times greater for cancers at the site where the tobacco is habitually held, depending on the frequency and duration of use. What this means is that at a minimum, spit tobacco users have a 300% greater risk of getting oral cancer than nonusers, and the more one uses, the greater the risk.
A study of U.S. veterans reported that use of chewing tobacco or snuff was associated significantly with death from cancers of the cheek and throat. Frequent users were 3 times more likely to get cheek cancer than less frequent users and 4 times more likely to get throat cancer. Those who started using spit tobacco before the age of 14 were 20 times more likely to get throat cancer. Given the negative health affects associated with smokeless tobacco use and the availability of safe, over-the-counter, nitrosamine-free nicotine replacement products, smokeless tobacco should never be suggested as an alternative to smoking cigarettes.
As the tobacco industry steps up its efforts to market alternatives to cigarettes, it is more important than ever that we spread the word that just because a product is labeled "smokeless" that it is not harmless or a safe alternative to smoking. We must be diligent in educating the youth of America that smokeless tobacco is a dangerous and addicting substance that poses an overall threat to one's health and could result in death.
In early February, the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company (UST) asked the Federal Trade Commission to issue an Advisory Opinion allowing UST to advertise any and all of its smokeless tobacco products, regardless of how many nitrosamines they contain, as a "significantly reduced risk alternative as compared to cigarette smoking."
UST is interested in adding the statement that "the use of smokeless tobacco involves significantly less risk of adverse health effects than smoking cigarettes," to its advertisements. The truth is that there is no safe form of tobacco. If the FTC should request your position as Surgeon General, we recommend that you publicly oppose UST's request and reinforce the health benefits of not using any form of tobacco. Indeed, no agency should allow a company to make comparative health claims in the absence of governmental authority over the manufacturing and marketing of its products.
In fact, UST acknowledged in 1999 to The Providence Journal, that "the Surgeon General and other public health authorities have concluded that the use of smokeless tobacco can cause oral cancer and is addictive." The admission was part of an agreement with Rhode Island Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse, who filed a legal action against the company for violating the terms of the multi-state tobacco settlement and making false claims about the safety of their products.
President Bush indicated that the next Surgeon General would focus on prevention and life-long healthy living as a key component to medical care. By reinforcing the risks of using spit tobacco, you have the opportunity to increase awareness among children of the negative health effects associated with all types of tobacco use.
Please join us in leading all Americans to a healthy future. We look forward to working with you on this and other critical health needs.