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The ‘war against tobacco’ has long since ceased to have much to do with saving lives. Here’s the latest bone-headed example:
(Reuters) – Swedish Match AB should not be allowed to alter the warning label on its snus smokeless tobacco products to claim they are less harmful than cigarettes, an advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concluded on Friday.
The Stockholm-based company is seeking FDA approval to remove warnings about mouth cancer, gum disease and tooth loss from its snus products and to state that they present a “substantially” lower risk than cigarettes.
‘Snus’ (often translated as ‘snuff’, but that’s a little misleading) is a Swedish moist tobacco product, typically inserted either loose or, rather more elegantly, in a small sachet, under the upper lip. The way that snus tobacco is treated (steam-pasteurization) appears to have reduced or eliminated its carcinogenic properties (as, of course, does the fact that it is not smoked).
Snus is wildly popular in Sweden (and, increasingly, Norway) and its success appears to have played a significant part in the very low smoking rates there (and corresponding reduction in tobacco-related disease). There is no evidence that snus operates as a gateway drug. There is evidence it helps people quit smoking.
Like just about everything else, Snus is not 100 percent risk-free (thus, as a product containing nicotine, there is some association with hypertension), but the cancer risk (a disputed connection with pancreatic cancer) is so low that the Swedish division of the nanny state (no slackers they!) removed the specific reference to cancer from the warning label put on tins of snus.
What cannot be denied is that snus is almost infinitely safer than cigarettes, and that tens of thousands of lives would be saved were it to be available elsewhere in Europe. But the EU, reliably hostile to anything that might actually be in the interests of its citizens, has banned snus other than in Sweden (and, to a limited degree, Denmark), where the product was grandfathered. Lucky Norway, of course, is not in the EU.
Snus is not banned in the US, but it seems unlikely that the snus warning label will be amended to reflect any inconvenient scientific truths (the FDA typically follows the recommendations of its advisory panels).
Advocates of a risk-based regulatory approach to tobacco products were disappointed.
“The committee appears to have set an absolute standard of safety that ignores decades of evidence showing that snus is vastly safer than cigarettes,” said Dr. Brad Rodu, a professor of medicine at the University of Louisville.
….Most panelists agreed that snus appears less harmful than cigarettes when used by smokers who switch.
Kurt Ribisl, a panel member and professor at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, said for people using tobacco products, “we need to find a way to nudge them to the less toxic products.”
Still, committee members said Swedish Match did not provide enough evidence to show Sweden’s experience could be replicated in the United States, or that the company had properly tested its proposed warning to ensure consumers would understand or be able to interpret it.
Because the US population is, in their view, very, very dim.
[The committee members] also said the company had not provided enough information to rule out an association between snus and tooth loss or gum disease, although four of eight panelists found enough evidence to rule out a meaningful link to mouth cancer.
Tobacco control advocates welcomed the vote, saying the company’s proposal did not reflect the full range of associated risks, including a potential increased risk of pancreatic cancer and risks to pregnant women.
That “welcome” was only to be expected. Only absolute purity will do. And if people have to die as a result, well, that’s too bad.
ISIS fans would understand. Moral fanaticism is what it is.