by Carl V Phillips
As I have documented, the American Cancer Society (ACS) was one of the most aggressive anti-THR liars of the 2000s, actively campaigning to convince people that smokeless tobacco use was as harmful as smoking. They have continued to be solidly a part of the anti-THR cabal in the 2010s, but they have not been so aggressive about the propaganda. So in “honor” of today being the ACS’s “Great American Smokeout”, I thought I would see how much they might have corrected their lies. It took me about five seconds to figure out the answer was “not much at all”.
Take just this one page, with about one screen’s worth of information. (Archived here in case they try to memory-hole it, though they do not seem particularly concerned about being caught perpetuating stupid lies.) It was the top hit from their own search engine, so I cannot be accused of digging through their archives to find obscure, non-prominent lies.
There is nothing here that they have not been corrected on numerous times. So an intention to mislead people — blatant intentional lying — is the only way to interpret their behavior. Let’s step through the entire content:
Are spit tobacco and snuff safe alternatives to smoking?
Can the question itself be a lie? It turns out yes. Many questions are intentionally designed to distract from the truth. In this case, “safe alternative” is a strawman to distract the reader away from the relevant question, “is smokeless tobacco use an enormously safer low-risk alternative to smoking”. No one seriously claims that ST is safe. Nothing is 100% safe, so they could ask the same question and get the same answer about whether eating apples is a safe alternative to smoking. People with a poor understanding of risk often think there is some dichotomy between the risky and the safe, which is obviously false, and ACS is blatantly taking advantage of this flaw in our national education, and perpetuating it rather than trying to help correct it.
As for “spit tobacco”, it is not a lie, but it is morally rather similar. This is a term that was made up by anti-THR activists to try to denigrate ST users. Can you imagine if they used similar derogatory unprofessional phrasing to describe, say, gay sex acts that increase cancer risk. It would be a scandal. Luckily for them, being tobacco-user-phobic is allowed.
Many terms are used to describe tobacco that is put in the mouth, such as spit, oral, smokeless, chewing, and snuff tobacco. Using any kind of spit or smokeless tobacco is a major health risk. It is less lethal than smoking tobacco, but less lethal is a far cry from safe.
Not too long ago, ACS would have said, in one way or another, that the risk is the same. But the liars have been called on that enough times that only the most clueless still say it. But instead of changing to the truth that encourage people to quit smoking, they just came up with another version of the anti-THR lie. While there is no bright-line definition of “major health risk”, I suspect that no one would consider that phrase to include what we know about ST: “risk so small that it is not measurable, and there is no definitive link with any disease”. This is a rather close cry from safe, it turns out.
More nicotine is absorbed from spit tobacco than is absorbed from one cigarette. Overall, people who dip or chew get about the same amount of nicotine as regular smokers.
Lying with literal truth, one of the classics. The page is about health effects. Since nicotine causes very very little or perhaps even none of the health risk from smoking, this is a red herring, meant to trick the average reader (who does not understand about nicotine). What they say is actually not true because it is nonsense: users of all products get as much nicotine as they choose to get, so it makes no sense to even make the comparison.
The most harmful cancer-causing substances in spit tobacco are tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) which have been found at levels 100 times higher than the nitrosamines that are allowed in bacon, beer, and other foods. These carcinogens cause lung cancer in lab animals, even when injected rather than inhaled.
Another classic, the scary, scary chemicals. Even if ST use does cause cancer, there is no way anyone can definitively claim what chemicals are responsible, let alone most harmful. And, yes, mega-doses of those chemicals when injected in particular ways can be used to torture animals to death via cancer. You know what else that is true of? Basically everything.
Notice also that clever little “have been found”. This is designed to distract from what is typical of products that are on the shelf today, with much lower concentrations of these chemicals than what has occasionally been found in the past. It turns out that acetaminophen capsules have been found with lethal doses of poison in them. Is that useful to know?
Of course, apart from all of that, the real key is that if the exposure does not cause a measurable level of cancer, then talk about cancer causing chemicals is meaningless. It is intended to distract the reader from the truth.
The juice from smokeless tobacco is absorbed directly through the lining of the mouth. This causes sores and white patches (called leukoplakia) that often lead to cancer of the mouth.
Actually, if there is any dysplasia (pre-cancerous cellular changes), then the term leukoplakia does not apply. But the terminology does not matter. (So why did they include it? Because it sounds scary!) What matters is that the superficial lesions from ST use do not often cause to cancer of the mouth. Indeed, based on the science we have, there is not evidence that they ever do so.
People who use spit and other types of smokeless tobacco greatly increase their risk of other cancers, including those of the mouth, pharynx (throat), esophagus (the swallowing tube that connects the mouth and the stomach), stomach, and pancreas. Other effects of using spit tobacco include chronic bad breath, stained teeth and fillings, gum disease, tooth decay, tooth loss, tooth abrasion, and loss of bone in the jaw. Users may also have problems with high blood pressure and may be at increased risk for heart disease.
Should I be petty and point out that their list of “other [than mouth] cancers” starts out with mouth cancer. Nah. I will just repeat that none of that sentence is true. It is not even remotely defensible. There is no detectable risk for any of those cancers, let alone all of them. Also unsupported by the science are the tooth and gum disease claims. (I am not sure there is any research on bad breath, but it actually seems likely that using some mint snus reduces bad breath in much the same way that chewing gum does.)
The last sentence is another classic lie via a truthful statement. ST users might have high blood pressure and above average risk. Who else might have these problems? Non-users. (“Warning: If you do not use smokeless tobacco, you may be at increased risk for heart disease and are at risk of high blood pressure. Half of all non-users have elevated risk for heart disease.” All true!)
What is snus? Is it safe? Snus (sounds like “snoose”) is a type of moist snuff first used in Sweden. It’s often flavored with spices or fruit, and is usually packaged like small tea bags. It’s also sold loose, as a moist powder. Like snuff and other spit tobaccos, snus is held between the gum and mouth tissues where the juice is absorbed into the body.
No real health claims here. But geez, how sloppy can you get and still be allowed to have a website? (I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to spot the errors.)
Because it’s steam-heated rather than fermented, Swedish snus has fewer tobacco-specific nitrosamines that are known to cause cancer (see above). But this doesn’t mean snus is safe. Snus users may have a higher risk of cancer of the pancreas than non-users. They also get sores or spots in the mouth (lesions) where the snus is held. It appears that snus users may have mouth cancer more often than non-users, though more studies need to be done to confirm this.
The only part that is correct is the “see above” — as in, see what I wrote about every bit of this being wrong, so I do not have to repeat myself.
Last Medical Review: 11/08/2012
Last Revised: 11/08/2012
In some ways this is the worst bit of all. The page is current. These zombie lies are not just some old leftovers. They claim it was revised and reviewed this month. Perhaps they should get someone who knows something about science, rather than a medic, to do their reviewing.
So, as the 2012 Great American Smokeout draws to a close, with almost everyone who quit for the day soon to start smoking again, the American Cancer Society can congratulate themselves for doing their part to make sure that those smokers did not switch to a low risk alternative. After all, if they switched, they would dramatically reduce their cancer risk, and then ACS would not be able to keep using them to bolster its own wealth and importance.