The Truth Initiative is a $1 billion foundation devoted to tobacco prohibition. Launched as the American Legacy Foundation with cash from the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, the group changed its name in 2015. The initiative recently issued a “fact sheet” on smokeless tobacco that is grossly inaccurate and misleading.

On one hand, it suggests that smokeless is safer: “Switching completely from smoking cigarettes to using the least harmful forms of smokeless tobacco (e.g., Swedish snus) may result in lower health risks to individuals”; cancer risks are “lower for smokeless tobacco users than for smokers”; and “smokeless tobacco use, while harmful, is less harmful than cigarette smoking. The least harmful smokeless tobacco products are low-nitrosamine Swedish snus.”

The last statement is blatantly wrong. As I explained in a recent post, it is impossible to differentiate risks among Swedish and American smokeless products. There is no basis for the claim that “Harms from smokeless tobacco products vary by product type.”

The initiative departs from mainstream science with an additional assertion: “Smokeless tobacco use causes precancerous oral lesions, oral, esophageal and pancreatic cancer.”  Their source for that hyperbolic statement is the same as a recent Food and Drug Administration campaign: embarrassingly weak and misleading information from Paolo Boffetta and colleagues at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, debunked here. While actual risk estimates for these diseases would leave the media and consumers totally unimpressed, the initiative omits them all, much as other anti-tobacco agencies routinely do.

Imprecision, hyperbole and cherry-picked data are the hallmarks of the well-funded and often taxpayer-supported tobacco-prohibition movement. In the absence of truth and transparency, public health only suffers.

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