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John Allen Paulos, Professor, Temple University

"More than 400,000 Americans die annually from the effects of smoking, but there is some intriguing evidence that the number could be drastically reduced by the widespread use of smokeless... Professors Brad Rodu and Philip Cole recently published a note in Nature in which they claimed that the average life expectancy for a thirty-five-year-old smokeless user would be fifteen days shorter than that for a thirty-five-year-old nonsmoker. This is in contrast to 7.8 years lost by smokers. The authors estimate that a wholesale switch to smokeless tobacco would result in a 98 percent reduction in tobacco-related deaths... There has already been strong opposition to it from some antismoking groups because of an increase in the risk of oral cancer (which is much rarer than lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease). I suspect that another reason is a certain misguided sense of moral purity -- not unlike opposing the use of condoms because, unlike abstinence, they're not 100 percent effective. If the numbers presented here are confirmed, however, recommending a switch to smokeless tobacco for those smokers (and only those) who can't quit would seem like sound public policy."

Professor John Allen Paulos
Temple University
In: A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper (Basic Books, 1995)