The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently granted “modified risk” status to one brand of snus, a tobacco product that’s popular in Sweden and starting to become a thing in other countries around the world. But while it might be less risky than other tobacco products, it’s still not exactly safe.
Snus (rhymes with goose) comes in little pouches, meant to be tucked between the upper lip and the gums. Unlike chewing or dip tobacco, it doesn’t cause excessive salivation, so there’s no constant spitting.
All of these oral, or “smokeless,” tobacco products carry a risk of cancer. Since you’re not breathing in smoke, lung cancer isn’t an issue, but people who use smokeless tobacco have higher rates of cancers of the mouth, throat and tongue, plus pancreatic and esophageal cancer.
Snus carries less risk of some of those cancers than other tobacco products, enough that if a cigarette smoker were to stop smoking and switch completely to snus, they would be at a lower risk. So after snus maker Swedish Match provided evidence about the risks, the FDA agreed to let the company add the following text to its labels: “Using General Snus instead of cigarettes puts you at a lower risk of mouth 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 in the U.S. The agency’s press release, however, emphasises that this doesn’t mean snus is “safe.” The product still has to carry one of the standard warnings for smokeless tobacco, which include statements like “WARNING: This product can cause mouth cancer.” The acting FDA commissioner, Ned Sharpless, summed up the agency’s position:
While we are authorising these specific modified risk tobacco products, it’s important for the public to understand that all tobacco products — including these — pose risk. Anyone who does not currently use tobacco products, especially youth, should refrain from doing so.
In Australia, it is an offence to sell snus, as heated tobacco products remain illegal.