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Traditional product with a modern role in harm reduction

Snus is a low-toxicant smokeless tobacco product. It has been used in Sweden for hundreds of years and remains popular there today – in fact, its use is increasing while cigarette consumption is falling.

Snus has been proven to be substantially less risky than smoking, and several independent health experts have acknowledged that snus use is at least 90 per cent less harmful than smoking cigarettes.

What is snus?

Snus is finely-ground moist tobacco that is formed into portions and placed under the upper lip and held in the mouth for up to an hour. In Sweden, it is a traditional product which evolved out of the popularity of snuff in Europe in the 1700s.

Today, BAT sells snus in Sweden and Norway in three main forms:

  • loose snus that consumers form into portions
  • pre-moulded snus portions
  • loose snus prepacked into small pouches (a bit like tiny tea-bags).

Making snus

Snus is made by grinding tobacco leaves, adding water, flavourings, salt and humectants. It is then heated in a process similar to pasteurisation, which reduces the formation of tobacco-specific nitrosamines – chemicals which are potentially carcinogenic and have historically been found at relatively high levels in other forms of oral tobacco, such as some types of chewing tobacco.

Snus production
The Swedish National Food Administration Service reported in 2004 that research shows a decrease in nitrosamines in Swedish snus of around 85 per cent over 20 years.

A smokeless history

Snus isn’t the only form of smokeless tobacco – other types include snuff and chewing tobacco.

Consuming smokeless tobacco is a tradition in many countries. It was popular before the safety match was invented in 1844 and the industrial production of cigarettes became possible at the end of the 19th century. In the early 20th century, cigarette smoking gradually became the most prevalent way of consuming tobacco.

Today, smokeless tobacco remains popular in several countries, including Sweden, Norway, India and the USA. In Sweden, snus regained popularity from the 1970s and had overtaken cigarettes again by the mid 1990s.

Snus – what health studies show

Studies of snus use in Sweden suggest that it does not lead to an increasing risk of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, two diseases strongly associated with cigarette smoking. This is not surprising, given that consuming snus does not involve inhaling smoke.

While research on various other forms of smokeless tobacco has found associations with oral cancer, research to date on snus in Sweden suggests no increase in risk overall.

Research on snus and heart disease is less clear and some public health bodies have also concluded that snus use is also associated with increased risks of pancreatic cancer and other diseases. However, any risks associated with snus use are lower than those associated with cigarette smoking.

Smokeless does not mean harmless and the best way to avoid the risks associated with consuming tobacco is not to consume it at all. However, there are indications that the use of smokeless products such as snus has had a positive effect on lessening the impact of smoking on public health.

Sweden has the highest consumption of smokeless tobacco per capita in the world and as snus use has increased in the country, cigarette consumption has fallen.

Snus releases about the same amount of nicotine as cigarettes, so it is assumed that some snus users are dependent. However, it’s the inhalation of tobacco smoke that presents the serious risk to health for smokers.

Selling snus

We currently sell snus in Sweden and Norway through our Fiedler & Lundgren snus business, which dates back to the 1700s.

In July 2017, British American Tobacco p.l.c. (BAT) acquired the remaining 57.8% of Reynolds American Inc. (RAI) that BAT did not already own. RAI’s operating company, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, markets Camel Snus, the leading snus product in the US.

Sales of snus are currently banned in some countries, including Australia and European Union (EU) Member States. Sweden obtained an exemption from the ban when it joined the EU in 1995.

We believe snus should be legal in all countries. Properly regulated, they can potentially contribute to reducing the public health impact of tobacco use.

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