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Smokeless Tobacco is a Lifesaver

This message of hope for millions of smokers is based on three facts. First, smokeless tobacco use is 98% safer than cigarette smoking. Thus, it can save the lives of smokers and of those persons who breathe second-hand smoke. Second, smokeless tobacco effectively provides the nicotine kick smokers crave. That is why one third of smokeless users in the U.S. today are former smokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Third -- and this may be surprising to most readers -- modern smokeless tobacco products can be used invisibly, much like a breath mint, in any social situation. These facts are the foundation of a simple and practical harm reduction strategy for inveterate smokers: switch to smokeless tobacco.

This "switch-to-smokeless" strategy has major implications for public health efforts regarding tobacco use and thus several issues arise. Does the proposal have a sound scientific rationale? Is it practical enough for widespread implementation? Will smokers who switch to smokeless tobacco remain addicted to nicotine, instead of quitting altogether? Is it appropriate to recommend a preventive strategy that carries some risk? Will nonusers of tobacco, especially teenagers, infer that smokeless tobacco use is safe? Discussion of these issues will provide a new framework for examination of cigarette smoking, America's single most avoidable cause of death.