Portioned snus by the brand General licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

An in-depth review of epidemiologic studies regarding snus has found that using snus is a much safer alternative to smoking. Authored by Peter N. Lee and published online by Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, the study found that, while smoking substantially increases the risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases, any increase from using snus is insignificant. A landmark finding for the scientific community, the researcher was ultimately able to conclude that the evidence provides scant support for any major adverse health effect of snus.

Smokeless tobacco products are popular across the globe, but there is considerable variation among them. Snus, the most popular form of smokeless tobacco in Sweden, is based on low-nitrate tobacco that is neither fermented nor fire cured giving it low levels of tobacco specific nitrosamines, which are the carcinogens found in tobacco products. The prevalence of snus in Sweden has had a tremendously positive effect on their public health. Manufactured cigarette smoking in males is less common in Sweden when compared with other West European countries. Sweden also has a relatively low rate of major smoking-related diseases. Previous research conducted by Foulds et al. (2003) found a strikingly favorable lung cancer trend among Swedish men, compared to their Norwegian counterparts, accompanied by their increased use of snus and decreased smoking.

To accurately assess how snus affects the body, Lee reviewed the evidence from over 150 studies covering a variety of diseases associated with tobacco products. The main findings of the study can be read below, while the full study is available here

Key Findings:

  • Any increase in risk of cancer or CID from snus use is undemonstrated, and if it exists is about 1% of that from smoking
  • Poor mental health was associated with smoking, but not with snus use
  • There is a lack of evidence to support the idea that introducing snus in a population would encourage smoking initiation or discourage cessation

Bolstering the arguments of its proponents, the data indisputably proves that switching to snus would improve the health prospects of those smokers who are unable or unwilling to quit using nicotine. By analyzing this trove of data in a systematic and unbiased manner, Lee was able to dispel myths that have led to snus being banned in every country in the European Union with the exception of Sweden. 

The work being reviewed in this study accentuates how smokeless tobacco products are vital to helping the most vulnerable in society, and how ill-conceived bans and regulations will end up costing lives.