Monday 29 November 2010

Tobacco control caught fibbing again

The Swedish National Institute of Public Health (SNIPH) has got itself into hot water after lying accidentally giving the wrong impression to journalists about the health effects of snus.

SNIPH has been waging a vendetta against snus for many years. As you may be aware (if you recall Skoal Bandits), a massively ill-informed burst of prohibitionist fervour in the early 1990s resulted in snus being made illegal in the EU. The reasoning was that it caused oral cancer and was a gateway to smoking. Sweden wisely negotiated an opt-out when it joined the EU in 1995 and since then a mountain of evidence has amassed to show that snus categorically does not cause oral cancer and that is a very effective gateway away from smoking.

The SNIPH would have us believe that the Swedes' incredibly low rate of smoking (just 12%) and correspondingly low rate of lung cancer are in no way way related to the enormous quantities of (basically harmless) snus they consume instead. Nor are they prepared to consider the possibility that if the EU removes its completely arbitrary ban on the world's least hazardous tobacco product, the Swedish experience could be replicated elsewhere.

For motives that are—I'm sure—as pure as the Scandinavian driven snow, various people in and around the EU don't seem all that keen on legalising a product which is about as safe as Nicorette and considerably more effective as a smoking cessation aid. I really can't think why the tobacco control movement would be against such a product.

Having grudgingly accepted that snus doesn't cause mouth cancer (which is intuitively the most likely outcome from a tobacco product used in the mouth), the SNIPH has been on a ten-year fishing expedition to find a 'link' with various other cancers and heart disease.

Last week came a shock new claim. At their conference in Stockholm, the SNIPH announced the results of a new study which showed that snus affects fertility and causes impotency. DN, one of Sweden's biggest newspapers, announced that "nicotine in snus affects potency and also inhibits women's ability to become pregnant." (Article here; translation here.)

This claim came directly from the SNIPH's tobacco control project manager, Asa Lundquist, and generated considerable discussion in Sweden, where over 20% of men are regular snus users. Swedes are used to hearing scare stories about snus (invariably from the SNIPH) and this was no exception. But what makes this scare particularly risible is the fact that the "finding" is a figment of Lundquist's imagination. Although she went on the record to talk about the study, and even approved the DN's article before publication, no such study has ever been conducted and the DN has since printed a correction:

SNIPH backs off on snus and potency

In Wednesday's DN we referred to a new study from the Public Health Institute showing that snus causes erectiledysfunction. No such study exists.

"I nearly fell off my chair when I saw this article," said Stefan Arver, associate professor of endocrinology at the Karolinska Institute. "There is no such study. We have a hypothesis and plan to conduct a study among snus users after the new year."

It's bad enough that researchers announce what they expect to find from a commissioned study (eg. Jill Pell, Manuela Martins-Green). But pretending to have completed the study and making up the result has to be a new low. So please, in the interests of whatever tiny degree of scientific integrity that remains, at least have the decency to begin the research before you start lying to us.


Anonymous said...

I think the male smoking prevalence for Sweden is given as 15%, the lowest in the developed world. The female is higher, around 20% I think, because women think snus is unsightly and prolonged use makes your teeth go black (unless you clean them, I presume). This was told to me by a Swedish former work colleague about 5 yrs ago. He brought me some snus over and it was excellent. I sent for some more by mail order and it never arrived. The company claimed that its Swedish Post parcels are never stopped by British Customs. Does anyone have advice about reliable supplies of snus? If anti smoking campaigners were truly concerned about health, they would campaign to get snus sales legalised in the EU. This shows them up for what they really are. I remember this came up a few years ago and Ian Gilmore, I think, had a letter published in the Times claiming snus caused pancreatic cancer (if it does, it doesn't put Sweden very high in the pancreatic cancer league table) - never mind the lack of lung cancer. What goes on in these people's heads?

Anonymous said...

In answer to anon, it's quite simple what goes on in these people's heads. It doesn't matter that snus is around 98% safer than cigarettes. It's still a tobacco product (for tobacco read "evil"). No matter that it might be equally (or maybe more) effective and certainly cheaper than NRT. The really tragic thing here is that smokers are almost certainly dying unnecessarily as those who might want to use snus instead of cigarettes are denied that opportunity because of the inane EU ban on the product. It's supremely ironic that some of the most vitriolic opposition regarding snus as a potential lifesaver comes from Sweden. It would seem that whilst IKEA are famous for "flat-packs",some Swedish tobacco control advocates might obtain equal fame for their seemingly "flat-earth" approach to tobacco harm reduction. Thank God they all don't seem to think like that!

Anonymous said...

Snus is currently legal inside the US and in California it has been introduced under both the Marlboro and Camel snus brand names.

This has been in response to California's extreme smoke-banning efforts, which in some locales such as San Francisco, ban all smoking indoors, outdoors and in some areas, inside private homes - as well as total bans on tobacco retail sales and removing tobacco retail sales licensing in an effort to make tobacco de-facto, illegal.

And of course the tobacco companies do next to nothing to ever confront local governments making them defacto illegal, nor do tobacco companies stick up for the rights of their own retailers to earn a living. Thus the introduction of Snus is a run-around the legal system to escape confrontation based on Constitutional and property rights that are being trampled.

In California, the heavy use of bans has resulted in an official estimate of smoking prevalance to be around 10%, much lower than Sweden's, but it may not take into account if the numbers are being pulled only from official tobacco tax revenue figures - since California is reportedly down about $750,000,000 in yearly tobacco tax revenue which may be a result of Californians purchasing tobacco from bootleg, out of state or Indian reservation sources.

In California, the spending on anti-smoking propaganda and spending on public health has of course increased over this time period - so there seems not to be a correlation between decreased tobacco tax revenue takings and improved health but quite the opposite. As tobacco tax revenue plummets, cost of pubicly funded health and social services actually increases. This may be the result of anti-smoking knows no bounds when it comes to demanding ever increasing public monies to keep itself in business and thus "health" is actually a misnomer in this case.

New York City is currently experiencing the same official drop in tobacco sales by estimating a loss of $24,000,000 monthly in tobacco tax revenue, but doesn't necessarily follow that it is a drop in smoking as much as smokers simply buying tobacco from out of state and from Indian reservations which are non-taxed.

You may be able to buy Snus from within the US, if anyone is shipping from there. Look for it branded currently under Marlboro, Camel and I believe under Kool may have begun a line of Snus also.

Carl V Phillips said...

Kind of funny that this appears the same day as this:

Anonymous said...

..And if it were true that

"nicotine in snus affects potency and also inhibits women's ability to become pregnant."

why would nicotine in NRT NOT be harmful?


Anonymous said...

Exactly Jay. Doesn't that illustrate what a desperate situation we are in? It's far from unique to us smokers and snus users though and always fools a large proportion of the population. Steak, potatoes and a bit of vegetable oil are all nutritious - unless you mince the steak up, make a burger and turn the potatoes and oil into chips; then it's junk food. We accept this kind of nonsense so we are given more.

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog.

Junican said...

There are two words which describe the condition: 'overconfidence' and 'arrogance'. One wonders sometimes how many of these quoted studies actually take place.

NickM said...

Ah, c'mon!
It's this simple. They hate nicotine use because they hate it. It is exactly the same reason there are moves afoot against vapers. I have an electrofag and it's very nice and essentially harmless but that is not the point. These people are just killjoys. Simple as that.

essentially the last thing they want is a way to enjoy tobacco, alcohol, recreational drugs, burgers, driving that is safe or safer. Of course they hate that because they can therefore no longer hector from the parapets of the moral high ground.

And make no mistake this is not about health. This is about morality. This is puritanism.

Anonymous said...

This is quite damning really. It says a lot about the whole structure of tobacco control. No doubt she will be exonerated by a committee of her peers and the matter swept under the carpet.