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Marlboro Snus: What is it?

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Yesterday Philip Morris USA, the tobacco company that has around 50% of the total market for cigarettes in the USA, announced the launch a new product: “Marlboro Snus,” in a test market in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. So what type of product it this?

As this particular brand of snus won’t be launched until August we can’t yet tell much of the details of the product (e.g. how much nicotine it delivers or how much it will cost) so lets talk about what “snus” is generally, and why the biggest cigarette manufacturers in the US are test marketing an entirely different type of product.

Snus (pronounced “snooss”) is the Swedish word for snuff, and is a form of moist ground smokeless tobacco, that is usually sold in “sachet” form – each sachet looking like a small tea-bag. Each sachet is placed in the mouth (usually under the upper or lower lip) for about 30 minutes and the nicotine and tobacco taste is absorbed via the lining of the mouth. The main difference between snus products and other smokeless tobacco already available in the United States, is that snus is produced using a process like pasteurization in which it is heated with steam. This kills most of the microbes that can produce cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco. Traditional smokeless products like Skoal and Copenhagen are not pasteurized but are fermented - a process that facilitates the development of cancer-causing chemicals. So snus does not appear to cause oral cancer. Clearly smokeless products also don’t cause lung cancer or respiratory diseases like emphysema either. That’s not to say that snus is entirely safe. Long term use can cause white patches to appear on the lining of the mouth and erosion of the gum where it is placed, and decades of use may increase risks of pancreatic cancer and cardiovascular disease (e.g. stroke and heart attacks). The nicotine from this product will also harm the unborn baby when used by a pregnant woman. So neither snus nor any other form of smokeless tobacco is recommended for anyone who currently doesn’t smoke. But because the health risks from snus are much lower (about 90% lower) than from smoking this may be a step in the right direction for the smoker who wants to keep using tobacco but wants to avoid most of the health risks.

Other companies are also test marketing snus products in the US. For example, Reynolds are launching Camel Snus, and Swedish Match are marketing “Exalt” in the US. So why are the big tobacco companies starting to test-market this product? The most likely reason is that they are aware that indoor smoking bans are sweeping the country, making it more hassle to be a smoker. They know that for a proportion of smokers the hassle of going in and out of nicotine withdrawal and being blamed for inflicting their smoke on other people makes it just not worth it, and will prompt many smokers to quit each year. I think they see snus as a way to get smokers to use their smokeless product in smoke-free environments, (so avoiding nicotine withdrawal and social stigma) but to continue smoking their cigarette brand in places where it is allowed. Clearly if smokers who would otherwise have quite continue to use both cigarettes and snus, this is a bad outcome for public health.

The use of the brand name “Marlboro” for their snus product suggests that the company may be serious about selling this product, and also suggests an intent to link it to their cigarette brands.

For those interested in quitting smoking, the best advice is to use one or more FDA-approved smoking cessation medications and enrole in counseling with a smoking cessation specialist.

If you are interested in learning more about snus, and the effects it has had on smoking in Sweden, click on this link: http://www.tobaccoprogram.org/staffarticles.htm
, scroll down to the papers by Foulds and colleages (2003) on “The Effect of smokeless tobacco (snus) on smoking and public health in Sweden” and the paper by Ramstrom & Foulds (2006). These are both available as pdfs for free from this site.
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About the Author


MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.

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