In his Huffington Post blog on April 18, Dr. Glenn Braunstein penned “Chew on This: The Real Dangers of Smokeless Tobacco.” (available here) Dr. Braunstein is professor and chairman of the Department of Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. The “dangers” he described are demonstrably fictitious. Compounding this offense, Dr. Braunstein subsequently violated HuffPo blog moderating rules by removing my April 19 reasoned and fact-driven comment, which read:
“It is regrettable that Dr. Braunstein used the Huffington Post to misinform Americans about smokeless tobacco.
“Dr. Braunstein: ‘Contrary to popular belief, ingesting [smokeless] tobacco carries risks just as serious and severe as smoking.’ This ignores numerous scientific studies documenting that smokeless tobacco use is 98% safer than smoking. Smokeless does not cause lung cancer, heart disease or emphysema, and the risk for mouth cancer is far lower than with cigarettes. Statistically, smokeless users have about the same risk of dying from mouth cancer as automobile users have of dying in a car wreck.
“Dr. Braunstein goes even further, suggesting that ‘…ingested tobacco may be even more dangerous than cigarettes…’ because of nicotine. This is grossly misleading. All tobacco products have roughly the same nicotine content and produce about the same blood levels. More importantly, nicotine does not cause any smoking-related disease.
“Dr. Braunstein’s comments are at odds with the viewpoint of prominent tobacco research and policy professionals. A group of leading tobacco experts in 2004 concluded: … ‘[smokeless] products pose a substantially lower risk to the user than do conventional cigarettes. This finding raises ethical questions concerning whether it is inappropriate and misleading for government officials or public health experts to characterize smokeless tobacco products as comparably dangerous with cigarette smoking.’
“The established scientific and medical literature on tobacco harm reduction clearly refutes the major objections raised by Dr. Braunstein concerning modern smoke-free tobacco products.”
My comment appeared just long enough on HuffPo to elicit a supporting comment from another reader: “I agree with Dr. Rodu. I’d like to see Dr. Braunstein’s reponse to Dr. Rodu’s points, though we probably won’t. As a dentist, I encourage those who use smokeless to quit, but not by giving them false information. The information in this article is very very misleading.”
According to Dr. Braunstein’s HuffPo biography, he is an endocrinologist with an interest in the treatment of thyroid cancer and in male and female reproductive endocrinology; he has no apparent expertise in tobacco issues. His blog entry on the subject closely aligns with smokeless tobacco misinformation issued in the past by the leading tobacco-prohibitionist organizations (Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and others).
HuffPo says on its site that its mission is “to promote an open and transparent conversation.” But allowing Dr. Braunstein to erase a fair and factual rejoinder to his unfounded remarks violates that tenet, and disserves the public interest.