Snus is a traditional Scandinavian smokeless tobacco product, used particularly in Sweden, where it is widely used by men and has been regulated as a food product under the Swedish Food Act since the 1970s. Snus is available loose or portioned (in pouches resembling tiny tea bags), and consumed by placing the pouch or a pinch between the gum and upper lip for a period of time.
Unlike other smokeless tobacco, snus has a relatively high nicotine delivery and absorption, and relatively lower levels of harmful substances. The lower levels of toxins are generally attributed to how it is manufactured and stored. Although it is largely accepted that the health hazards of using snus are much less than for smoking, uncertainties about the long-term impacts remain. Studies have shown associations between snus use and pancreatic cancer, and linked snus use to type 2 diabetes, fatal heart attacks, heightened blood pressure, and preterm birth and stillbirths.
Public health interest in snus began following observations of the so-called ‘Swedish Experience’, which attributes Sweden’s low smoking prevalence, and resulting low occurrence of smoking related diseases, to high rates of snus use among Swedish men. With the evidence that snus is considerably less harmful than smoking, and that smokers smoke because they are addicted to the nicotine (and as mentioned above snus has a relatively high nicotine delivery and absorption), this raises the potential for lives to be saved if smokers could switch to using nicotine in a less hazardous form than a cigarette.
From 2002, large transnational tobacco companies increasingly invested in snus, and more recently, nicotine pouches, which do not contain tobacco leaf. Philip Morris International gained significant interests in both products when it acquired Swedish Match in 2022.
- For more information on these investments, see Cigarette Companies Investing in Snus.
The European ban on snus sales has been repeatedly legally challenged by the industry, and a strong lobby from Sweden. Meanwhile, a peer-reviewed study found there was relatively little control on promotions and illegal snus sales via the Internet.
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