Senate Committee Examines Health Impact of Smoking Alternatives

Sen. Rob Johnson

A senate committee examined on Wednesday whether Oklahoma may have an opportunity to reduce the risk of disease and death among the state's smokers through tobacco harm reduction strategies.

The Senate Committee on Health and Human Service's interim study focused on the potential impact of policies that encourage smokers to switch from cigarettes to smokeless tobacco products.

Sen. Rob Johnson, who requested the study, 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," Johnson said. "If tobacco harm reduction strategies can produce positive results without unnecessary intrusion and regulation on personal behavior, then they deserve careful consideration.

John also said that everyone knows the harmful effects of tobacco, but if there are less risky forms available, the public has a right to know the facts.

Dr. Brad Rodu, professor of medicine at the University of Louisville, said that tobacco harm reduction encourages smokers to move down a risk continuum from cigarettes to alternatives, such as e-cigarettes, if they can't quit. He said that these strategies are an alternative to cessation policies which have low rates of success.

"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. Smokeless products are vastly safer than cigarettes."

He also said the high risk in smoking comes from the smoke itself.

Johnson said the committee would continue to examine whether tobacco harm reduction policies can effectively encourage smokers to use safer products, and positively impact the state's health.

A 2011 health survey still put Oklahoma's adult smoking rate 3 percent higher than the national average. But the survey also showed that the rate has declined since 2000.