18 March 2011

Unhealthful News 77 - Important scientific discovery: RJR products that are made from tobacco and confectionary are found to contain nicotine and confectionary

Brad Rodu got the scoop on this story at his Tobacco Truth blog a few days ago, but now it has been reported in the popular press, so it is time for an Unhealthful News analysis.  Some scientists (I refer to their job descriptions, not their behavior or way of thinking) analyzed some of RJR's Camel-branded dissolvable tobacco products (Orbs, Sticks, Strips) and reported that they contained exactly what would have been expected.  The researchers from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (I bother to include that institution name just to mention that those of us who, back in the day, were in the same leagues referred to them, using a rough phonetic interpretation of their acronym IUPUI, as oo-ee-poo-ee) reported that the products contained nicotine (gasp!) and simple food ingredients like you could find in most confectionaries.

If they had just stopped there, it would have been a somewhat useful, albeit fairly boring, scientific study of chemical content that might have been used appropriately as data for other analyses sometime.  Or it might have been pretty useless, since the same information probably could have been obtained from the manufacturer. 

But the researchers decided to tout that information to the popular press.  This is actually a bit of a good-news story about the press because, indicting only those further upstream, since only a few obscure news outlets have picked up the press release.  In that press release the authors try to turn their boring workaday chem lab study into a warning about:

(a) Child Poisoning ("The packaging and design of the dissolvables may also appeal to children….")

Huh?  What the hell does that have to do with their chemistry analysis?

(b) Mysterious Effects of Nicotine ("They note abundant scientific evidence about the potential adverse health effects of nicotine, including those involving the teeth and gums.")

Would those be the adverse effects like the relief from psychological disorders and prevention of degenerative brain disease, or some other adverse health effect.  And I would love to hear how they decided that nicotine is bad for the teeth and gums, and I suspect the folks who make Nicorette gum might be interested too.

(c) The Use of Deadly Toxins as Ingredients ("Other ingredients in dissolvables have ...[properties]… and one, coumarin, has been banned as a flavoring agent in food because of its link to a risk of liver damage."

At least this one has something to do with their chemistry study, unlike the rest of their random comments, and might cause some concern.  So it is a good thing that Brad Rodu addressed it several days ago.  Too bad the authors did not bother to read what people had written about their study before they put out their press release.  Brad pointed out that coumarin can be found in some kinds of cinnamon, and the traces of it were indeed only found in the cinnamon flavor.  Mystery of that "ingredient" solved.

(d) A Mysterious Dramatic Mutation of Tobacco ("The researchers' analysis found that the products contain mainly nicotine and a variety of flavoring ingredients, sweeteners, and binders.")

From this we can infer that the finely ground tobacco in these products, since not a flavoring ingredient, sweetener, or binder, must consist of "mainly nicotine".  Funny, I had not heard of that breakthrough in plant engineering.

(e) And, of course, Politics Disguised as Science ("Health officials are concerned about whether the products, which dissolve inside the mouth near the lips and gums, are in fact a safer alternative to cigarette smoking.")

Um, no.  Anyone who deserves to have the word "health" as part of their title knows the truth.  Anti-tobacco extremists are concerned about the fact that these are a low-risk alternative, and thus might undermine their dishonest messages about all tobacco products having the same high risk.  Fortunately, they have the folks from oo-ee-poo-ee to help them keep people confused.

I must say, this is a surprising level of hype about nothing, even for anti-tobacco propaganda.  I am not even sure Stephen Hecht could have exaggerated the ramifications of a meaningless chemistry study this much.  It is somewhat forgivable when news reporters try to conjure up some simplistic practical implication of a new purely technical scientific study.  ("The discovery of an Earth-sized planet orbiting the distant star may aid in the development of tastier breakfast cereals.")  They are probably under orders to make such stories appeal to people as stupid as they think we are.  It is not forgivable when people who are pretending to be legitimate scientists do this.

The oo-ee-poo-ee researchers [yes, I know that is cheap and bordering on childish, but it takes me back to college days, so bordering on child is about right] conclude their press release with:
"The results presented here are the first to reveal the complexity of dissolvable tobacco products and may be used to assess potential health effects," said Goodpaster [what would be really cheap and childish would be to riff on the lead investigator's name, so I won't], noting that it is "therefore important to understand some of the potential toxicological effects of some of the ingredients of these products." Nicotine in particular, he noted, is a toxic substance linked to the development of oral cancers and gum disease.
I trust that my readers, unlike these non-health scientists who should really stick to their chemistry sets, know enough to know that nicotine has never been shown to cause any cancer or any other disease (there is concern about pregnancy effects and speculation about the effects of mild blood pressure increases).  And, yes, most of that really is just a repeat much of what I already commented on (this was entirely separate from all of the bits I quoted above) – they had so little to say that they had to make the the same false statements multiple times in the press release.  I thought about adding some final assessment of the lengths of dishonesty that anti-tobacco researchers will go to try to discourage tobacco harm reduction, but I do not think I can put it better than they did themselves.

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