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Legislators Dismiss Smokeless Tobacco Theory
Would promoting smoke-free tobacco products help stubborn smokers stop lighting up? A leading tobacco company thinks so, and so do--more surprisingly--some doctors.
The thinking is if you want your nicotine fix and you are not going to quit, at least take the smoke out of the equation. That, some doctors are saying, will reduce health risks.
But other doctors are saying hold on, this sounds like another tobacco company ploy that will only increase the number of people who die from cigarettes.
No one in the House committee hearing at the Illinois State Capitol Thursday is saying smoking is healthy. No one is saying tobacco isn’t harmful. But some are saying promoting smokeless tobacco products could benefit those who just won't give it up.
“So the problem is this, we've had this vigorous tobacco control program, which has been going on for almost half a century and it's reached a plateau," Dr. Joel Nitzkin of the American Association of Public Health said.
The Centers for Disease Control says smoking kills more than 440,000 people in the United States a year. It has been that way for more than a decade.
Nitzkin tells legislators that number could be below 8,000 if those who insist on lighting up opted for a smokeless alternative.
“So Tobacco Harm Reduction is the most promising policy option to start from where we are now and reduce these mortality rates," Nitzkin said.
Epidemiologist Dr. Craig Conover of the Illinois Department of Public Health disagrees.
“Many people that use smokeless tobacco also use cigarettes, so if we have a cigarette user that begins using smokeless tobacco, it's quite likely that that person is just going to be addicted to two tobacco products," Conover said.
Then there is the concern of kids--or people who start out smoke-free--trying smokeless and eventually becoming smokers.
“We really don't need the next generation of kids getting hooked on smokeless tobacco and then progressing to smoking cigarettes and so on," Conover said. "This is really just a ploy to increase the tobacco company profits."
Meanwhile, R.J. Reynolds, the company that is behind this Tobacco Harm Reduction initiative, says they are not looking to profit from this. They are just urging the legislature to give out information on alternative products for people who refuse to quit smoking.
Not all the legislators at Thursday's hearing spoke, but those who did dismiss the idea that promoting smokeless tobacco is better for your health than smoking.