Unlike ejuice, Snus is primarily tobacco; it is tempting not to consider any possible parallels with vaping because Vapers are generally anti-tobacco in attitude however there are interesting points to note and lessons to be drawn from understanding what Snus is and how it is regulated, especially within the EU.
Snus is a variant of dry snuff, it is a moist tobacco powder first made near the start of the 19th century in Sweden. Within the EU, Sweden is the only country that you can buy Snus, it comes either loose or packed in little ‘tea bags’. The loose Snus is simply pinched together or rolled into a cylinder and placed under the upper lip, loose Snus is the traditional option. The ‘Tea bag’ (portions) option is the more modern choice, going by the names ‘White portions’ and ‘Regular portions’, dependant on whether they are sold dry or moisturised, portions are also placed under the upper lip. Both loose and portion varieties are normally sold in small (plastic or plastic/cardboard) tobacco tins. The most common nicotine concentration is 8mg per gram of tobacco however stronger varieties may contain up to 22mg per gram of tobacco.
It’s not Snuff
Snus should not be confused with Snuff which is sniffed up the nose. Any possible confusion between the products is exasperated because the Swedish word for Snuff is Snus, however to keep things simple in English we use both words, Snuff for the stuff that goes up your nose and Snus to describe the Swedish product. Some American tobacco companies are now selling their version of Snus in the USA however the American Snus often has a lower acidity and moisture content. Snus is neither Chewing tobacco (which is which long strands of tobacco placed between the cheek and the teeth) nor is it Dipping Tobacco (which is placed between the bottom lip and the gums and is the origin of those spitting cowboys seen in old films).
Sweden is exempt from the 1992 EU ban on Snus mainly because of public pressure applied during the lead in to Sweden’s 1994 referendum for EU membership. There have been calls on the EU to lift the Snus ban throughout Europe because it is generally considered to be less harmful than smoking and safer for others nearby. As we have seen with ecigs though, anything remotely associated with tobacco causes the legislators to act irrationally – they will always view ‘harm’ in absolutist terms whereas in the case of smoking, things should considered in relative terms. Anything that can reduce the number of smokers is likely to be widely beneficial to the health of the population even if the alternative is tobacco used in a different way. Of course ecigs do not contain tobacco, just nicotine from tobacco, however the EU seems set to rely on similarly misguided views with regard to ecigs as it has with Snus. It is more than likely that the upcoming EU Tobacco Product Directive will uphold the EU Ban on Snus while maintaining the Swedish exception.
The ’Citizens Summery’ (pdf) of the EU Draft Tobacco Product Directive States “In the past ten years, there have been several market, scientific and international developments in the tobacco sector, and as such the existing rules present a number of weaknesses, gaps and loopholes. For example, since 2001, … novel products such as electronic cigarettes have been put on the market.” This, to me, sounds as if the policy makers regard ecigs as nothing more than a way to circumvent the 1992 EU Tobacco Product Directive rather than welcoming ecigs as a tobacco-free means to reduce the number of people who smoke.
Naturally there is no consensus of opinion on exactly how harmful to ones health the use of Suns is. The main area a study has been to find an association between it’s use and Oropharyngeal (mouth and throat) cancer because of it’s use in the mouth of users but a study published in 2008 of almost 10,000 Swedish men was unable to statistically confirm an elevated risk. Other studies have suggested a probable increased risk of Pancreatic cancer in users however several reports partially funded by the Snus industry pointed out that no carcinogenic affects could be attributed to Swedish Snus which lead to a rewording of the warning label on tins from ‘could cause cancer’ to ‘may affect health’. Sweden has a lower rate of lung cancer and lower level of smokers than any other EU country, this is acknowledged by The World Heath Organisation but still they do not endorse it as a tobacco harm reducer.
It is estimated that 30% of Swedish ex-smoking men are Snus users, this is thought to be responsible for the significantly lower incidence of tobacco related deaths in Swedish men when compared to the male tobacco related deaths in the EU generally. Conversely Snus is not often used by Swedish women, whose tobacco related death rates are similar to that of other EU countries.
Lessons for Ecig users
From the above it is evident that Snus is fairly popular in Sweden and that it has a positive effect on that nations health – despite which the EU still ban its sale throughout the rest of the EU. Sweden as a nation has effectively acted as a mass clinical trial and their experience shows us that smoking can be successfully reduced by offering a safer alternative that is acceptable to the user. I’m not arguing though, for Snus to be un-banned across Europe because we don’t need Snus here, instead we have electronic cigarettes which do not even contain tobacco and so are likely to be even less harmful to health than Snus.
It is also instructional for our battle ahead that the EU has given an exception to Sweden in its ban of Snus, this was because of public pressure applied during their move toward EU membership. Only Sweden will continue to benefit from its derogation under the Accession Treaty which allows for Snus to be consumed in Sweden. Could we leverage the current ‘political hot potato’ of renegotiated EU membership and subsequent EU membership referendum to our advantage? Maybe the ranks of Europhobes within our major political parties and beyond could be our natural allies.
I gratefully acknowledge the roll of Wikipedia in my research for this article. To find out more about Snus I recommend reading the Wikipedia entry (Here) from which most of this information was drawn. Pictures from my recent holiday accompany this article to illustrate smoke free air, I would have liked to have used pictures of Snus, but I can’t buy Snus in the U.K. in order to photograph it.