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The National Cancer Institute: A Taxpayer-Funded Crusader

By Brad Rodu

Reprinted With Permission from The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 4, 1996

Over the past year the National Cancer Institute has apparently redefined its cancer research mission -- becoming a taxpayer-funded antitobacco crusader in the process.

The NCI awarded a $600,000 grant to a University of California researcher to publicize internal documents of the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company and tobacco industry campaign contributions. More recently, the NCI doled out $1 million to the Tobacco Control Resource Center at the Northeastern University School of Law.

These "cancer research" funds will be used to assist states filing class action lawsuits to recover medical costs related to smoking.

In protest, a House appropriations committee directed the NCI to defund the California researcher, and the National Review labeled that grant a promotion of "de facto prohibition."

The NCI's change of course follows the prevailing winds of the anti-tobacco movement in transforming tobacco use from a health issue to a moral one. George Santayana wrote that "fanaticism consists of redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim."

One of the NCI's objectives for the past decade has been to encourage more smokers to quit, but the institute has a meager and entirely forgettable record in traditional smoking cessation. For example, the NCI recently reported only marginal results from its Community Intervention Trial for Smoking Cessation (COMMIT), a nationwide program which cost $45 million.

Nicotine may be the reason people smoke, but it is not the reason that smokers die. COMMIT and similar quit-smoking efforts are a bust for one simple reason: strict adherence to the dogma that quitting smoking requires quitting nicotine altogether.

In other words, the smoker who is trying to break one of mankind's most powerful addictions should just think pleasant thoughts. An NCI smoking cessation manual, "How to Help Your Patients Stop Smoking," counsels physicians to offer these pitiful tips to smokers experiencing powerful nicotine withdrawal symptoms:

  • Keep your hands busy -- doodle, knit, type a letter.
  • Try carrots, sunflower seeds, apples, celery, raisins, or sugarless gum.
  • Cut a drinking straw into cigarette-sized pieces and inhale air.
  • Get up and move about, or do something else.
  • Look at your watch whenever the urge to smoke hits you.
  • Wear a rubber band around your wrist. When you really feel like you want a cigarette, snap the rubber band... and in your mind say STOP...picture in your mind a red stop sign.
  • Don't sit in your favorite chair.
  • Eat your lunch in a different location.
  • Keep a daydream ready to go.
  • Breathe in deeply and slowly, while you count to five; breathe out slowly, counting to five again.
  • Take 10 deep breaths and hold the last one while lighting a match. Exhale slowly and blow out the match. Pretend it is a cigarette, and crush it out in an ashtray.
Let's face it, many smokers just can't make daydreaming or doodling work for them. They need nicotine, and alternative systems now exist for delivering the drug to them. For example, smokeless tobacco delivers the nicotine kick smokers crave, is widely available without prescription, and is scientifically proven to be 98% safer than smoking. The only consequential risk of smokeless tobacco use is oral cancer, but the risk is half that of cigarette smoking. Lung cancer, heart disease and emphysema risks are not present with smokeless use; therefore, smokers who switch reduce all tobacco-related health risks.

Switching to smokeless tobacco is also a practical and workable harm reduction strategy for the nation's 46 million smokers. Newer smokeless tobacco products can be used essentially invisibly, and spitting is minimal to nonexistent. Thus, it is not surprising that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that up to 2 million smokers have quit smoking by switching to smokeless.

In September an FDA advisory panel acknowledged that quitting smoking -- without necessarily quitting nicotine -- is the key to reducing health risks. The panel recommended that nicotine gum is safe enough to be released from prescription status.

If the FDA deregulates nicotine instead of regulating tobacco, then at least one federal agency will be on the right track to help the nation's smokers. The NCI should immediately suspend its "politically correct" and tax-dollar foolish nicotine prohibition programs and return to its mandate of pursuing objective scientific research.

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