Robin Huebner’s Sunday column, “North Dakota ranks high in use of smokeless tobacco,” was grossly misleading. As Rob Port pointed out, North Dakota may have the third highest smokeless rate in the U.S., but the state’s smoking ranking is “middle of the pack,” despite a relatively low cigarette excise tax.
Worse, Huebner, along with Holly Scott and Melissa Markegard of Fargo Cass Public Health, regurgitated a dangerous public health myth – that using smokeless tobacco is as risky as smoking. That’s the furthest thing from the truth.
Huebner, Scott and Markegard ignored numerous scientific and medical studies demonstrating that health risks from smokeless tobacco use are so low as to be barely measurable. That includes mouth cancer. Statistically, users have about the same risk of dying from smokeless tobacco as automobile users have of dying in a car accident.
This information is not new. Britain’s prestigious Royal College of Physicians issued a report in 2002 concluding: “As a way of using nicotine, the consumption of non-combustible [smokeless] tobacco is on the order of 10-1,000 times less hazardous than smoking.”
A 2004 study sponsored by the U.S. government’s National Cancer Institute concluded: … “[smokeless] products pose a substantially lower risk to the user than do conventional cigarettes. This finding raises ethical questions concerning whether it is inappropriate and misleading for government officials or public health experts to characterize smokeless tobacco products as comparably dangerous with cigarette smoking.”
I have requested a retraction of the false and misleading statements in the Huebner column. The “just-as-dangerous” message is irresponsible and unethical, as it may prompt smokeless users to switch to far more dangerous cigarettes, and it prevents smokers from considering satisfying and vastly safer products like smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes. North Dakotans deserve accurate information on tobacco products and health, which is available at RoduTobaccoTruth and SwitchandQuit.