The Perils of Tobacco Teetotalism


In a Washington Post op-ed piece, Hunter College epidemiologist Philip Alcabes takes aim at the public health idiocy encapsulated in the World Health Organization slogan "Tobacco: Deadly in Any Form or Disguise." The refusal to acknowledge that some forms of tobacco are less dangerous than others, says Alcabes, puts people's lives at risk by deterring them from replacing cigarettes with smokeless tobacco, some forms of which pose virtually no measurable health risks. "Tobacco is not deadly; the harm is in the smoke," he writes. "A policy that confuses innocuous tobacco with harmful smoke is responsible for millions of avoidable deaths each year worldwide." Alcabes argues that the all-or-nothing, Just Say No approach to tobacco (and nicotine) is inconsistent with the professed values of public health specialists, who in other areas promote harm reduction rather than insisting on abstinence. Academics such as Brad Rodu and various journalists (including me) have been making these points for years, but it's encouraging to see an epidemiologist making them in The Washington Post.

[Thanks to CEI's Christine Hall-Reis for the tip.]