Snus is finely-ground moist tobacco that comes either loose or in tiny pouches
Swedish-style snus is a form of tobacco that isn’t smoked. It is a traditional product in Sweden that has been used for hundreds of years and it is acknowledged by several independent health experts to be at least 90 per cent less harmful than smoking cigarettes.
What is snus?
Snus is finely-ground moist tobacco that comes either loose or in tiny pouches which are placed under the upper lip. It contains nicotine in similar quantities to cigarettes. Each pouch contains from 0.4 to 1.5 grams of tobacco and is held in the mouth, without chewing or sucking, for about an hour before being discarded. Daily use varies from person to person.
Snus is different from other kinds of smokeless tobacco, because it’s ‘pasteurised’ with heat. It is made by grinding sun-cured and air-cured tobacco leaves, adding water, salt (for taste) and humectants to keep it moist. It is then heated in a process similar to pasteurisation.
The heating process 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.
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
Swedish-style snus isn’t the only form of smokeless tobacco – there is nasal snuff, chewing tobacco, wet and dry snuff.
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 and cigars 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, with smokeless tobacco falling out of favour.
However, smokeless tobacco remained popular in several countries, including Sweden, Norway, India and the USA. In Sweden particularly, snus regained popularity from the 1970s and had overtaken cigarettes again by the mid 1990s.
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. In response to public health stakeholders who told us they believe snus, properly regulated, can contribute to reducing the net public health impact of tobacco use, and to consumers who told us in dialogue that developing less harmful products is one of the most important things a tobacco business can do, our companies in South Africa and Canada test marketed snus using two of our major cigarette brands.
The test markets developed our understanding of the difficulties of introducing this new product to tobacco consumers. A continuing issue is the low level of awareness of this category of product among consumers. Due to the regulatory environment in South Africa and Canada, it is not possible to communicate the relative risks of snus compared to cigarettes to adult smokers and we believe this contributed to a low uptake in these test markets. We have since scaled back our test markets in these countries although we remain hopeful that snus will have a role to play in tobacco harm reduction.
By contrast, use of snus in Sweden and Norway has continued to grow. Snus is not a traditional product in Norway but Norwegian tobacco consumers do have access to some advice on different tobacco product choices.
In Sweden the overall level of tobacco consumption has remained the same over the past 25 years, but there has been an increasing trend away from cigarette smoking while snus use has increased.