by Carl V Phillips
Frequently the scientist in me is appalled by the drivel coming from “public health” regulators and “researchers” about tobacco products. Every now and then, the more general scholar in me is equally appalled.
In the 2000s, a popular trope was to denigrate tobacco harm reduction with the non-analogy that switching to a low-risk alternative to cigarettes was “like jumping from a 10th story window rather than 20th”. The exact floor counts varied, but heights were always chosen such that either fall was almost inevitably fatal, which not only overstated the near-zero risk from smokeless tobacco, but also overstated the risk from smoking.
My colleagues and I got so annoyed about this that we wrote this paper, in which we did a little research and concluded that a lifetime of smoking creates about the same probability of premature death as a (non-suicidal) jump from a fourth floor window or a bit lower (this ignores the fact that a death from the fall would be almost immediate, whereas the death from smoking would occur very late in life). By contrast, the mortality risk from smokeless tobacco was in the neighborhood of the risk from a jump of less than two stories — there is a tiny possibility it will be fatal, but it is extremely unlikely. We pointed out that many of us have intentionally taken such a jump. Continue reading