Behind the smokescreen – the rise of Snus as a tobacco alternative

Archaeological findings have determined that humans in the Americas started using tobacco nearly 12,300 years ago. 12,300 years later, Snus is the latest way to enjoy the rush from tobacco.

Health experts and media outlets are suggesting that Snus could be the tobacco alternative that finally leads to a ‘smokeless’ society- but is it too good to be true?

What is Snus?

Snus is a smokeless tobacco product originally from Sweden. Typically packaged in small pouches, users place the pouch between their gums and upper lip, releasing nicotine straight into their bloodstream. As mentioned above, Snus is completely smoke-free. Users can still get the ‘buzz’ they crave from nicotine without the smell or residues associated with cigarette smoking. 

Why is it so popular?

Although Snus is illegal to sell in the UK, it is not illegal to use. Recent reports have highlighted its growing popularity in the UK, particularly among professional footballers.

These reports highlight some of the reasons Snus is gaining popularity:

  • A healthier alternative: Snus is seen as a ‘safer’ way to satisfy nicotine cravings without using cigarettes. Many athletes prefer Snus over cigarettes because it does not impact lung capacity, function and performance
  • Avoiding social stigma: Snus offers a discreet way to consume nicotine without violating local regulations or when in smoke-free environments.
  • Increase in marketing efforts: The UK nicotine pouches market size was estimated at £214 million. Pay attention next time you’re in your local corner store – you might notice more packets of Snus than you remember!
  • Cultural influences: Snus highlights how globalisation is fueling cultural exchanges between countries. Although initially popular in Sweden, more people in the UK are more inclined to try something they’ve seen online.
  • Price: In many instances, Snus is cheaper than cigarettes, making it an attractive option for budget-conscious consumers.

Reading the above, Snus does sound like the lesser of two evils compared to traditional tobacco products. Is there cause for concern?

Why is Snus dangerous?

There are inherent health risks unique to tobacco consumption and Snus, including the potential for various side effects. Snus is considered very addictive compared to other tobacco products.

Nicotine and Snus

Nicotine is a naturally occurring, highly addictive stimulant found in Snus. It releases various stimulants (such as dopamine) that are associated with feelings of pleasure and reward. Nicotine is harmful for two reasons:

  • Highly addictive: Nicotine is a highly addictive ingredient in Snus. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms can be debilitating when attempting to quit.
  • Cardiovascular effects: Besides raising blood pressure and heart rate, nicotine can also increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Although Snus poses a lower level of cardiovascular risk compared to cigarettes, these risks are still present.

A Scandinavian study from 2020 linked Snus use to increased all-cause mortality, which included:

  • Oral health issues: Think about where Snus is placed in your mouth. Prolonged use can cause recessed gums, tooth decay and gum disease.
  • Cancer risk: The risks associated with Snus are lower than those from cigarettes, thanks to the pasteurisation process (which lowers the levels of harmful compounds). There is evidence linking Snus use to an increased risk of oral, esophageal and pancreatic cancer.
  • Reproductive and developmental effects: Nicotine exposure during pregnancy can harm the developing foetus and increase associated health issues (such as preterm birth, low birth weight, and sudden infant death syndrome).

After explaining the benefits and disadvantages of Snus, it’s clear that many of the same dangers associated with tobacco use are also evident in Snus. The overwhelming benefit of Snus is that it doesn’t seem to affect lung capacity or function. 

Knowing this, why is Snus so popular? Type ‘Snus’ into your browser, and you’ll find articles popping up describing Snus as a tool in NRT—nicotine Replacement Therapy.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) is designed for individuals who wish to quit smoking. Because quitting can trigger withdrawal symptoms, NRT offers a controlled way to reduce Nicotine dependence.

Snus as NRT – The verdict

Various publications have attempted to answer this question. However, the jury is still out. One Scandinavian study focusing on former smokers in Sweden found over 80% used Snus to quit smoking successfully. In addition, other studies have found that early uptake of Snus could lead to being a lifetime smoker.

The side effects of Snus shine a conflicting light on Snus as a form of treatment. Is it worth the benefits that come from not inhaling tobacco against the health risks associated with Snus? This is a controversial question to ask, especially as promoting Snus involves supporting the same tobacco companies that produce other harmful tobacco products.

We’ve mentioned many of the side effects above. Namely, increased oral health risks, increased risks for pregnant mothers (and subsequently, their children), and the negative impact on cardiovascular health. If you or a loved one are struggling with Snus addiction, there are numerous therapies and support available.

Contact us today to find out how to make a referral for treatment at one of our specialist rehab centres.