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Smokers Have Alternate Outlet for Addiction, By Terence Scanlon

January 3, 2004, The Myrtle Beach Sun News

In a perfect world, we would all stop using tobacco. But that's not going to happen. Not with 46 million Americans who to date have been unable to kick the habit. If those 46 million smokers converted to smokeless tobacco, though, the number of people dying from tobacco-related diseases each year would drop from 419,000 to 6,000.

America's war on smoking continues, but after years of impressive gains, we're locked in a stalemate, and casualties are unacceptably high. Many will try to make a New Year's resolution to quit smoking, but due to the nature of nicotine, most will fail.

Smoking-related diseases are killing more than 400,000 Americans every year, equal to our combat losses in all of World War II. Yet 25 percent of American adults still smoke. That's considerably better than the 42 percent we had when health warnings first went on cigarette packs in 1965, but it amounts to 46 million people.

These 46 million people have continued to smoke despite massive public information campaigns that made smoking unfashionable and tax increases that made cigarettes appallingly expensive. Why? Because they are addicted.

Most compulsive smokers are addicted to nicotine. Not particularly dangerous in itself, but cigarettes are the delivery system of choice for nicotine, and that's what's killing more than a thousand of us every day.

Given the high stakes involved, it's well past time that we encouraged heavy smokers to satisfy their nicotine craving with a far less dangerous form of tobacco use. I'm talking about smokeless tobacco, also known as chewing tobacco, snuff or chaw, depending on the part of the country where you were brought up.

Say yuck if you want, but this isn't about aesthetics. It's about life and death.

There is a mounting body of evidence that smokeless tobacco is a highly effective replacement for smoking. It's an alternative free from the dangers of lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and most other health risks associated with smoking.

Ironically, anti-tobacco zealots are doing their best to suppress the evidence that smokeless tobacco use has helped millions of people stop smoking and prevented millions more from starting.

Unfortunately, these zealots are taking a quit-or-die approach to tobacco, smoked or smokeless. They abhor compromise, even when it saves lives.

With the winds of political correctness at their backs and millions of dollars in foundation grants in their treasuries, two well-known anti-tobacco groups have lobbied the federal government to deny smokeless tobacco producers the right to make a public case for smokeless tobacco as a much safer alternative to smoking.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Oral Health America opposed a petition to the Federal Trade Commission to allow smokeless tobacco advertising to cite the public health benefits if smokers would convert to smokeless tobacco. Nobody is presenting smokeless tobacco as completely risk-free. It is a contributor to an estimated 6,000 deaths caused by oral cancer each year. University research shows, however, that smoking is 70 times more lethal.

In a perfect world, we would all stop using tobacco. But that's not going to happen. Not with 46 million Americans who to date have been unable to kick the habit. If those 46 million smokers converted to smokeless tobacco, though, the number of people dying from tobacco-related diseases each year would drop from 419,000 to 6,000.

And it's not all theory. In Sweden, where there has been a wholesale shift by men from smoking to smokeless tobacco, men have one of the lowest lung cancer rates in Europe. Deaths from other smoking-related diseases have also been sharply reduced. Many researchers in this country feel smokeless tobacco holds the same kind of potential health benefits for Americans.

American smokers will have to make up their own minds about using a smokeless alternative to cigarettes. At a minimum they should not be denied the information to help make an intelligent decision.

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Scanlon is president of the nonprofit Capital Research Center in Washington, D.C.