What Is Snus and Is It Safer Than Other Forms of Tobacco?

The FDA recently awarded “modified risk” status to one brand of snus , a tobacco product that is popular in Sweden and is beginning to expand in the United States. But while it may be less risky than other tobacco products, it is still not entirely safe.

Snus (rhymes with goose) comes in small pouches that need to be tucked between the upper lip and gums. Unlike chewing or dipping tobacco, it does not cause excessive salivation, so there is no constant spitting.

All of these oral or smokeless tobacco products carry cancer risks. Because you don’t breathe in smoke, lung cancer is not a problem, but people who use smokeless tobacco have a higher risk of cancers of the mouth, throat and tongue , as well as cancers of the pancreas and esophagus.

Snus carries a lower risk of developing some of these cancers than other tobacco products, so if a cigarette smoker quits smoking and switches entirely to snus, he is at lower risk. So after snus manufacturer Swedish Match provided evidence of the risks, the FDA allowed the company to add the following text to its labels: “Using General snus instead of cigarettes reduces the risk of oral cancer, heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.”

This is the first time the FDA has granted modified risk status to a tobacco product. However, the agency’s press release emphasizes that this does not mean that snus is “safe.” The product must still carry one of the standard smokeless tobacco warnings, which includes statements such as WARNING: This product may cause oral cancer. Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless summarized the agency’s position:

While we authorize these specific modified risk tobacco products, it is important for the public to understand that all tobacco products, including them, pose a risk. All who do not currently use tobacco products, especially young people, should refrain from doing so.


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