Information on the internet about the health risks associated with the consumption of smokeless tobacco usually overstates the risk. This is the conclusion of research published today in the Open Access journal BMC Public Health, entitled "You might as well smoke; the misleading and harmful public message about smokeless tobacco". A study of 316 internet websites showed that most government, health advice, and advocacy websites suggested that smokeless tobacco use is as harmful as cigarette smoking, even though the risk is actually extremely small compared to that from smoking.
Carl V. Phillips, of the University of Texas School of Medicine Center for Clinical Research and Evidence Based Medicine and School of Public Health, and colleagues report that the public is unlikely to find accurate information on the comparative risks of smokeless tobacco and cigarettes, leading to misconceptions amongst consumers. Phillips notes, "smokers can dramatically cut their risks by switching to smokeless tobacco, a strategy called harm reduction, but they have little chance of learning this. Similarly, authoritative organizations are telling smokeless tobacco users, in effect, you might as well smoke, a public health message that actually encourages people to switch to a much more dangerous product."
Phillips and colleagues conducted a systematic review of popular sources of information available on the internet, by looking at the content of websites that provide information about smokeless tobacco and health, found using a Google search. They found that of the 316 sites that were suitable for inclusion in the review, "almost every website had statements that played up the health risks from smokeless tobacco without caveat". Furthermore, "a large portion of websites directly stated or implied that the risks from smokeless tobacco and cigarettes are similar". The websites of organisations including the U.S. National Cancer Institute and other government agencies, the American Cancer Society, and several of the most popular health advice sites contained information that either explicitly or implicitly suggested that the risks of smokeless tobacco and cigarettes are comparable.
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