Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Memorial Day and the Myth of Nicotine

This holiday weekend I had the opportunity to speak to my husband's aunt regarding electronic cigarettes. She was smoking and showed interest. Ever the e-cig evangelist, I excitedly told her of the advantages of smokefree alternatives.

To my utter dismay, she told me her doctor had given her a prescription for a "low nicotine" or "no nicotine" cigarette, claiming that the nicotine was the dangerous component of smoking. (After an extensive Google search, I couldn't find a "prescription no/low nicotine cigarette," so I've concluded she meant a Nicotrol Inhaler.)

It took me several attempts to get her to understand that nicotine, absent the smoke, is relatively safe. "It's the smoke that contains all of the toxins," I told her. She was shocked, as the vilification of nicotine by the anti-tobacco groups had completely convinced her that nicotine is what killed people.

That led, of course, to a discussion about smoke-free tobacco and another surprise revelation - that smoke-free tobacco is up to 99% safer than smoking cigarettes. The real shock for her was finding out that the risk of mouth and throat cancer was actually up to 50% less than the risk from smoking. As with other typically brainwashed consumers, she believed that smokeless tobacco products actually had a HIGHER risk of mouth/throat cancer. To add to the irony, she had discouraged her occasional-smoker son from using oral tobacco, not because of the perceived health risks, but to prevent damage to his costly dental work. Consequently, he remained an occasional smoker, when simple, good dental hygiene would have reduced his health risks by 99%.

Finally, she told me that she never filled the prescription from her doctor, because insurance didn't cover it and just 30 doses cost $35. So, she continues smoking. After informing her of the truth about the health benefits of smokeless alternatives and electronic cigarettes and especially the low cost, she was quite interested in getting information on how to order.

This whole conversation graphically illustrated the tragic consequences of the lies and myths perpetuated by the groups calling themselves "public health." A 50-something year old woman, who knows that she should quit smoking for her health and well-being, would have been willing to switch to a less hazardous product had she known the facts. "Public health" failed her. Their scare tactics failed to inspire her to quit, their costly "treatments" were out of her financial means and their refusal to endorse reduced harm tobacco products (in a prohibitionist belief that any kind of nicotine use is unacceptable) needlessly exposed her to the most harmful tobacco product available.

It's my hope that groups like CASAA, the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, will be able to fill the huge gap left by the tobacco control and public health groups, by educating committed smokers and giving them the tools and knowledge to make informed decisions about their health and well-being.

If my conversation with my husband's aunt is any indication, the myth of nicotine as the killer in cigarettes continues to be pervasive and persuasive and that is what continues killing people.

The concept of reduced harm tobacco has been around for at least 15 years. In that time, public health and tobacco control have had the opportunity to save many lives. This Memorial Day, I found myself thinking of the 6.6 million smokers who died because of the prohibitionist agenda of "public health."
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