Vice Squad
Friday, January 02, 2004
Safer Nicotine Delivery?

Today's Chicago Tribune reports on snus (registration required), a form of snuff (smokeless tobacco held in the mouth) that is used by one in nine people in Sweden. Snus, either in its loose form or in a small pre-packaged bag, is held under the upper lip. As a smokeless tobacco, snus does not bring the same lung cancer and cardiovascular risks as cigarettes. (Nor is there the same risk of fire, of course.) Nevertheless, it is not problem free: snus is "addictive" and like other forms of snuff, could involve a higher risk of mouth cancer. (Apparently there is no conclusive scientific evidence tying snus to cancer.)

Excepting Sweden, snus is illegal within the European Union: Sweden's exception was provided for as part of its negotiation for entry into the EU. A leading manufacturer of snus is lobbying and using court challenges in an attempt to legalize snus throughout the EU.

Though the overall health effects of snus use (!) are yet to be determined, it looks as if snus is much safer for users than are cigarettes (which, of course, are legal throughout the EU.) So there is probably a lot to be said for converting current smokers into snus consumers. Sweden has the lowest smoking rate (less than 20%) in the world, according to the article, and the lowest rate within the EU of lung cancer among males. The main concern would seem to be that legalized snus might attract a lot of users who otherwise would not smoke: the standard harm reduction fear. The loyal reader will know the regulatory regime favored by Vice Squad: legal snus, but strict controls on youth access and on promotion, and possibly even a whole panoply of regulations (such as hours of sale or quantity restrictions or at an extreme, licensing of users) that would not pose much of a barrier to "rational" adult snus consumers, but would be beneficial to those battling self-control problems in their use of nicotine products. Actually, given what appears to be the relatively low health risk of snus, and the almost negligible external costs of snus use, not much beyond promotion controls and restricted youth access would probably be all that useful.

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