12 January 2009

Tobacco giant pushes snus

Pronounced 'snoose', it sounds like what you do when you have flu, but in fact it's yet another tobacco product British American Tobacco South Africa wants us to try.

Pronounced 'snoose', it sounds like what you do when you have flu, but in fact it's yet another tobacco product British American Tobacco South Africa wants us to try.

What is snus?
Snus, which has Swedish origins, is finely-ground tobacco, or moist snuff, in a sachet that you place under your upper lip. Along with chewing tobacco and dry snuff, it's classified under 'smokeless tobacco products', which the big tobacco companies are starting to promote in a big way.

BAT has introduced snus in South Africa under the labels of two of its local cigarette winners, Peter Stuyvesant and Lucky Strike. It is currently available at 700 outlets in Johannesburg, Pretoria and on the East Rand, and will likely soon be available at a counter near you.

A tin of snus costs R14.00 for 16 pouches, each of which lasts about 30 minutes.

Why South Africa?
BAT South Africa says that this country was selected as a test market as the tobacco giant is the market leader here: "We are testing the acceptance of the product with our existing smokers. We want to establish whether they find snus to be a realistic alternative to smoking."

But is it cool?
It occurred to me that putting a sachet of snus under your upper lip would make it bulge out in an aesthetically displeasing manner, but BAT assures me that "It is a small, flat sachet and doesn't cause any bulging".

I also wondered: doesn't it stain your teeth? BAT was less certain about this, but stated: "We have no reason to believe that the risk of snus staining your teeth is any different to a similar risk posed by cigarettes." In other words: yes, it does.

'Smokeless is not harmless'
All forms of tobacco, smokeless or not, are harmful and addictive: everyone now agrees with that. The phrase 'smokeless is not harmless' is BAT's own.

Overall, smokeless tobacco products are less harmful than smoking tobacco, but they're a long way from innocent.

In addition to being highly addictive, chewing tobacco and snuff increase the risk for oral cancer, gum disease and dental problems, as well as for herat disease.

Of the smokeless forms, snus does seem – given the current evidence, at any rate – to be the least harmful. In a review of the scinetific literature

But it's a matter of relativity, as Nigel Gray of the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, stated recently in The Lancet: “it is possible (however, reluctantly) to agree with BAT and Swedish Match that snus is a harm-reduction product, but only when compared with the cigarette.”

Will snus cause more or less smoking?
The other issue of concern with the mass marketing of snus is whether it would lead to more people getting hooked on nicotine, making it harder for smokers to give up their cigarettes, and possibly leading more non-smokers to take up smoking.

Studies do suggest, as far as Sweden is concerned, that the availability of snus has contributed to relatively low rates of smoking among Swedish men.

- Olivia Rose-Innes, Envirohealth expert, Health24, September 2006

Grey, N. Review in The Lancet, Vol 366, 17 September 2005


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