Switching to Smokeless Tobacco No Cure

Switching from cigarettes to snuff or chewing tobacco isn't nearly as healthy as quitting tobacco altogether.

A new study shows cigarette smokers who changed to spitting smokeless tobacco products are still more likely to die from tobacco-related diseases such as lung cancer and heart disease than those who quit using all forms of tobacco.

"Smokers who switched to snuff or chewing tobacco had considerably worse health outcomes than those who quit entirely," researcher Michael Thun, MD, vice president of Epidemiology and Surveillance Research at the American Cancer Society says, in a news release.

"Any smoker who is trying to quit should use proven methods such as nicotine replacement, antidepressants, and behavioral counseling rather than other tobacco products, if they do not succeed in quitting without assistance," Thun says.

This is the first study to directly compare death rates among those who quit tobacco entirely to those who switched to smokeless tobacco.

Switching Poor Substitute for Quitting

In the study, published in Tobacco Control, researchers compared death rates among a group of more than 116,000 men who participated in an ongoing cancer prevention study from 1982 to 2002.

More than 4,000 of the men were former cigarette smokers who switched to smokeless tobacco products; nearly 112,000 were smokers who quit using tobacco entirely.

After 20 years of follow-up, smokers who switched to smokeless tobacco products had a higher risk of death from any cause, and were much more likely to die from tobacco-related diseases such as lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke.

For example, switchers were 46% more likely to die of lung cancer than were quitters.

In addition, researchers found switchers were more than twice as likely to die from cancers of the mouth and throat as quitters.

Thun says the results support previous studies that show there is no evidence to support the promotion of alternative tobacco products for smoking cessation.

SOURCE: Henley, S. Tobacco Control, February 2007; vol 16: pp 22-28. News release, American Cancer Society.

By Jennifer Warner
Reviewed by Louise Chang