The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services on Wednesday examined whether the state may have an opportunity to reduce the risk of disease and death among smokers through tobacco harm reduction strategies.
Requested by Sen. Rob Johnson, the interim study focused on the potential impact of policies that encourage smokers to switch from cigarettes to smokeless tobacco products, which are statistically less likely to result in harmful outcomes.
Johnson said Oklahoma’s high rates of smoking-related disease and death merited a closer look at alternative strategies.
“It’s time for us to examine how we can improve these figures and whether there are effective policy options we can use,” said Johnson, R-Kingfisher. “If tobacco harm reduction strategies can produce positive results without unnecessary intrusion and regulation on personal behavior, then they deserve careful consideration. We all understand that tobacco can be harmful, but if less risky forms are available, the public has a right to know the facts.”
Dr. Brad Rodu, Professor of Medicine at the University of Louisville, explained that tobacco harm reduction encourages smokers to move down a risk continuum from dangerous products like cigarettes to less harmful alternatives, such as e-cigarettes and certain smokeless tobacco products, if they cannot quit. Rodu called the approach a pragmatic alternative to cessation policies which have very low rates of success. If an increasing percentage of smokers convert to lower-risk products, he said, public health outcomes could be significantly improved.
“In my experience, I saw much more mouth cancer caused by smoking and heavy drinking than by smokeless tobacco,” Rodu said. “In the next 20 years, 8 million Americans will die from smoking – it has become clear that the ‘quit or die’ strategy is ineffective. Smokeless products are vastly safer than cigarettes – they don’t cause emphysema, lung cancer or heart disease. Smoke is a very high risk delivery system.”
Johnson said the committee would continue to examine whether tobacco harm reduction policies can effectively encourage smokers to use safer products, and positively impact public health. While Oklahoma’s adult smoking rate has declined significantly since 2000, the state’s rate is still approximately 3 percent higher than the national average.