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Why Sweden Going Smoke-Free May Not be Such Good 'Snus'
Europe Science & Health

Why Sweden Going Smoke-Free May Not be Such Good ‘Snus’

Sweden is on track to be the first smoke-free country in Europe, largely due to the widespread use of snus, a form of moist snuff that is inserted under the upper lip.

However, there are concerns that the tobacco industry may be promoting a “fairy tale” that is not entirely realistic.

According to the government, snus, a smokeless tobacco product, has been utilized by 1 in 7 Swedes and has significantly reduced the number of smokers in the country from 15% in 2005 to a record low of 5.2% in Europe last year.

A nation is deemed smoke-free if the number of daily smokers in its population is below 5%.

Since 1992, the European Union has prohibited the use of Snus. However, when Sweden became a member three years later, they negotiated an exception to this ban.

Thousands of snus packets are produced at the Swedish Match factory in Gothenburg, located in western Sweden. The sachets go through a complicated network of machinery before being completed.

In 2021, the company sold a total of 277 million boxes of snus in both Sweden and Norway.

Patrik Hildingsson, a spokesperson for Swedish Match, stated to AFP that the use of [it] has been a longstanding tradition in Sweden for 200 years. This custom is deeply ingrained in Swedish culture, similar to how many other European countries have a strong wine culture.

This picture shows the Swedish Match production line of portion snus, a smokeless tobacco product that is placed under the upper lip, in the company's factory in Gothenburg, Sweden, Oct. 17, 2023.

On October 17, 2023, a photograph was taken at Swedish Match’s factory in Gothenburg, Sweden, showcasing their production process for portion snus, a form of smokeless tobacco that is inserted under the upper lip.

He wore a white lab coat and explained the process of manufacturing.

Tobacco is sourced from either India or the United States. It is processed in a silo before being packaged in pouches similar to tea bags and placed in boxes.

There are two categories: standard brown snus, which includes tobacco, and white snus, which is composed of artificial nicotine and frequently has added flavoring.

Conquering the young

The main markets for traditional snus are Sweden, Norway, and the United States.

Fifteen years ago, a type of snus called “white snus” was introduced and it currently falls into a legal grey area in the European Union due to its lack of tobacco. This year, it was prohibited in both Belgium and the Netherlands.

However, it has gained immense popularity among younger individuals in Sweden, as its usage has increased fourfold among women between the ages of 16 and 29 within a span of four years.

In Sweden, there has been a slight increase in the number of people who report using snus daily, with fifteen percent of the population now using this form of tobacco product.

Meanwhile, the nation has experienced a significant decline in smokers despite the fact that cigarettes cost less than half of what they do in Ireland.

Only 5% of Swedes report being regular smokers, based on 2022 statistics from the Public Health Agency. This places Sweden 27 years ahead of the EU’s goal of becoming smoke-free by 2050.

Swedish Health Minister Jakob Forssmed stated to AFP that the news is highly optimistic.

He stated that a significant choice was the prohibition of smoking in restaurants starting in 2005, followed by the ban on smoking at outdoor restaurants and public spaces in 2019.

Several individuals from Sweden have reported that transitioning to snus has aided them in quitting smoking.

The snus industry has received support from the government, as they have increased taxes on cigarettes by nine percent but decreased them by 20% on traditional snus.

Thorbjorn Thoors, a 67-year-old window repairman who has been using snus since his teenage years and stopped smoking many years ago, stated that due to the numerous regulations, it is nearly impractical to smoke. He also mentioned that snus does not have a strong scent and provides a more intense nicotine rush compared to cigarettes.

Linked to cancer?

However, Ulrika Arehed Kagstrom, the leader of the Swedish Cancer Society, disagrees with the choice to reduce taxes on snus.

She expressed her complete shock and disappointment.

The evidence suggests that they have fully embraced the narrative promoted by the tobacco industry, which aims to expand the market for these products by marketing them as harm reduction alternatives.

She insisted that we do not have sufficient research at this time.

It is recognized that the use of snus and similar nicotine products can lead to fluctuations in blood pressure and increase the likelihood of developing cardiovascular issues in the future.

Arehed Kagstrom is concerned that, similar to smoking, it will take years to determine the full extent of harm caused by these products.

In June 2023, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health conducted a study which revealed that frequent snus users had a three times higher risk of throat cancer and a two times higher risk of pancreatic cancer.

A research published in the International Journal of Cancer in 2017 concluded that there is no connection between snus and cancer.