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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Imperial Tobacco Offers an Unsafe Alternaive to Cigarettes As An Exercise in Corporate Social Responsibility

Imperial Tobacco has chosen lucky Edmonton for the launch of test marketing of a new nicotine product “SNUS.” This is a chewing tobacco alternative that that replaces smoking and does not involve “chewing or spitting.” How charming.

Reader of this blog will know I have written on tobacco control often. I have worked in the area professionally helping get a smoking ban in Alberta legislated…something that is still in process.

The CEO of Imperial Tobacco was dong the run of the Edmonton Editorial Boards yesterday and is quoted as admitting the product is not completely safe but his justification for knowingly incurring risk by using it is – wait for it: “SNUS is the first real product we’re able to bring onto the market where there seems to be pretty compelling evidence that this product is significantly less risky.” (EMPAHSIS ADDED)

And the rational the CEO uses for Imperial Tobacco doing this is – wait for it: it is part of the company’s strategy to become a better corporate citizen by offering a product that research SUGGESTS poses lower risk than smoking.” (EMPHASIS ADDED).

He is also quoted as saying “harm reduction is what responsible companies do.” This is a company offering an unproven product positioning it as a safer alternative to another deadly product it legally sells under the guise of a public health campaign and call this corporate social responsibility.

The company refers to studies showing SNUS users experience significant smoking declines and anecdotal evidence (TRANSLATED AS MEANING GOSSIP) that SNUS is effective in keeping smokers from returning to cigarettes. They admit that the researcher have noted they did not placebo-based controlled confirmation studies that prove this. Spare us the hype and hypocrisy.

Sweden is offered as the shining example of the positive impacts noting only 13% of men smoke and 22% use SNUS. So the rational conclusion from this is that 35% of the male population of Sweden are nicotine users – and this is progress? There is the added bonus of SNUS studies showing a 100% increase in pancreatic cancer in non-smoking construction workers and it raises blood pressure and it is admittedly addictive.

The launch initiative in Edmonton is a test marketing effort to see how people respond to the purchase of the product – NOT the health implications of the product. If it is a product that is a “gateway product out of smoking” you would expect the company to be researching the positive health impacts on lung cancer and other diseases and health issues associate with the product. That would be some serious examples of a meaningful corporate social responsibility effort.

This entire idea is like Kafka meets Alice in Wonderland.