By pro-smoking I of course mean the anti-tobacco extremists who so effectively fought THR there, since there is really no one else who engages in organized actions to keep people smoking. A friend (a dedicated smoker who sought to use low-risk alternatives) reported yesterday that he bought out the last stock of du Maurier Snus (dMS) from a Mac’s (the dominant convenience store chain in Alberta) and was told they did not expect to receive any more.
For those who have not followed our story (which we intend to write up in full shortly, since we get quite a few inquiries about it), we started conducting THR community education in Alberta at the public health science department at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. As soon as we started to have some local success at communicating the message that using smokeless nicotine products reduces risks (compared to smoking) by about 99%, the local anti-tobacco extremists shifted most of their resources away from being anti-smoking to being anti-harm-reduction. Mobilizing for this effort were the anti-tobacco unit of the provincial government as well as some self-styled local activists (private busybodies, but also funded by the government). As anti-tobacco extremists this was the right strategy for them, since low-risk products are more of a threat to their goal (to get everyone to quit using nicotine, regardless of the costs and benefits) than is smoking. Of course, this effort to discourage smokers from switching to a low-risk alternative was terrible for public health.
With the anti-tobacco people attacking public health efforts in Edmonton, it was only natural that a tobacco company would intervene on the side of public health. The major Canadian tobacco company, Imperial Tobacco Canada (a unit of British American Tobacco), launched a new product, dMS, in Edmonton to try to bring a product designed for THR to Canada. It boggles my mind how much money they spent to try to do this, to roll out this product and do everything legal to try to persuade their own cigarette customers to switch to a low-risk alternative. Of course, the anti-tobacco activists could not allow ITC to take away the justification for their existence, and so they jacked up taxes on smokeless tobacco, making it no longer possible for it to compete with cigarettes on price, and several anti-free-speech rules were implemented that basically made it impossible for smokers to learn about the existence of dMS, let alone its advantages over smoking.
Once that happened, the result was sadly inevitable. Though we continued to try to promote THR locally (despite a campaign against us personally by the local extremist nutcases – as I said, we will write about it), we were a small presence and ITC could legally do almost nothing. Only smokers who already knew to ask for dMS were even able to see it, so of course there were few customers who tried it. I would like to think that our grassroots efforts persuaded hundreds of local smokers, including the aforementioned friend, to switch to low-risk alternatives, but ITC could have persuaded tens of thousands were it not for the efforts to stop them from doing so.
If dMS is disappearing from Edmonton (which probably means disappearing entirely), and with e-cigarettes already banned in Canada, products aimed explicitly at THR will be hard to come by. Traditional American smokeless tobacco is still widely available and it is just as low-risk as the other smokeless alternatives, but most smokers who are interested in THR resist using it for various reasons and it has never been marketed as being good for THR. So this is a clear victory for those who depend on the sale of cigarettes (which is to say, anti-tobacco activists who need to justify their paychecks and the government which gets far more money from cigarette sales in Canada than the tobacco companies do) at the expense of those who wished to move smokers away from smoking (like ITC). Heckuva job, guys.
Nathan, please don’t just give up and buy cigarettes. I will smuggle you some low-priced Pennsylvania snus if need be.
–Carl V Phillips
[P.S. During my research for this post, I was reminded that some Canadians who want snus avoid the local lack of supply and evade the anti-THR taxes do so by ordering online. Occasionally customs will intercept the shipment, but it averages out a lot cheaper even with those losses. Naturally I would not want to be accused of suggesting that people evade a punishing tax that was designed to harm public health efforts, or perhaps even break laws that restrict the decisions people can make about their own health – I just know that some people figure out how to do so by reading this user group blog. Also, we really (really!) do not endorse any reputable high-quality low-risk nicotine product or merchant over any other, but speaking as just a matter of personal experience as a consumer, any Canadians who were particularly partial to dMS might want to see if they can get BAT’s similar South African product, Peter Stuyvesant (which also comes in coffee flavor!), or Fiedler & Lundgren’s Swedish products called Mocca; also RJR’s Camel Snus is kind of similar and is available just over the southern border. Of course that requires travel to South Africa or Sweden or the USA, unless you happen to know of some magical way to obtain products that are normally available only in other countries.]
Disclosure: Populi Health Institute, the American research institute that now operates TobaccoHarmReduction.org, is expecting a research grant from BAT, though has not received it yet. No funder or company had any involvement with this post, nor supports publication of this blog (which is free) nor my time in writing entries for it (which is volunteered).