February is a popular month for tobacco prohibitionists to attack smokeless tobacco, or “ST.” A year ago, I refuted seven false claims on the topic from county health departments. This year, the U.S. Department of Defense has escalated the attack.

Thanks to David Sweanor of the University of Ottawa Centre for Health Law, Policy & Ethics, we became aware of an outrageous DOD website called UCanQuit.  Sweanor, who has a long history of fighting cigarette company malfeasance, co-authored a commentary last month labeling a Food and Drug Administration ST misinformation campaign unethical.

The DOD site prompts users to engage in chat sessions to obtain quitting advice. The apparently scripted responses from human agents are filled with false information, such as these from Sweanor’s session:

Chewers are 50 times more likely than nonusers to get cancer of the cheek, gums, and inner surface of the lips…long-term users have a 50% greater risk of developing oral cancers than non-users.

A “50 times” risk is a boldfaced lie, as the proven risk is nearly nil.  While the American Cancer Society in 2010 told The Wall Street Journal that it would no longer use the 50 number, the DOD perpetuates that falsehood, even as it makes a contradictory misstatement about a 50 percent increased risk.

DOD chats are numbingly focused on ST nicotine levels.  In Sweanor’s 12-minute session, the subject came up 16 times:

[ST users] are hooked on nicotine, a highly addictive drug… [ST] products deliver substantial doses of nicotine along with powerful cancer-causing chemicals… nicotine from [ST] is absorbed through the mouth…nicotine obtained from smokeless tobacco is comparable to that of cigarettes… One can of snuff gives you as much nicotine as 60 cigarettes. Nicotine gives you the ‘buzz’ but is highly addictive… [ST] contains MORE nicotine than cigarettes! Using snuff or chewing tobacco may give you three to four times as much nicotine as from smoking a cigarette. And the nicotine stays in the bloodstream longer. Use two cans a week and you’ll get the same amount of nicotine as smoking a pack and a half a day.

Sweanor inquired:

Any difference in relative risks? Is using snus safer than smoking cigarettes for someone addicted to nicotine?

The response was only more of the same:

[O]ne can of snuff gives you as much nicotine as 60 cigarettes…Smokeless tobacco contains MORE nicotine than cigarettes! Using snuff or chewing tobacco may give you three to four times as much nicotine as from smoking a cigarette. And the nicotine stays in the bloodstream longer. Use two cans a week and you’ll get the same amount of nicotine as smoking a pack and a half a day.

Other experts subsequently visited the DOD site to engage in chats, with similar results.  My 12-minute session yielded 14 nicotine mentions, plus one particularly bizarre exchange.

This list appeared suddenly and without context:

1. Cadmium: used in car batteries 2. Formaldehyde: embalming fluid 3. Lead: a poison 4. Nicotine: an addictive drug 5. N-Nitrosamines: cancer-causing chemical 6. Polonium 210: nuclear waste 7. Acetaldehyde: irritant 8. Hydrazine: toxic chemical 9. Benzopyrene: cancer-causing chemical 10. Uranium 235: used in nuclear weapons 11. Sodium: salt, can cause high blood pressure 12. Sugar: can cause cavities 13. Fiberglass and Sand: abrasive

The implication was that these are deadly constituents of ST.  I have previously noted that such lists are meaningless, as everything we consume contains trace amounts of contaminants.  Chew and dip are no exceptions, but the contaminants at trace levels pose zero risks.

Because tobacco prohibitionists often imply that such trace contaminants are added to ST, I asked my chat correspondent:

I don’t understand the answer starting with cadmium. Do you mean that those things are added to dip and chew?

Chat operator:

Yes they are.

I asked:

How do dip and chew makers get access to uranium?

Chat operator:

I have no idea.

Finally, an honest answer.

The DOD has gone to the dark side with their taxpayer-funded, unfactual, anti-smokeless website. It should be taken down.


Image by Getmilitaryphotos