Have you ever wondered, what is snus, and what are the health effects and potential risks of snus? See our comprehensive overview information on this smokeless tobacco product.

What Is Snus Made Of?

Snus is a smokeless tobacco product that originated in Sweden and is popular in some Nordic countries. It differs from traditional cigarettes in several ways, including its ingredients and composition. Snus is primarily made from air-dried, ground tobacco which is typically fermented and a key step in the snus production process that sets it apart from many other smokeless tobacco products.

Various flavourings like liquorice, mint, and other additives are commonly used to give snus different tastes and aromas, which can vary between brands and products. The ingredients within snus include tobacco, salt, water, humectants such as glycerin or propylene glycol, and flavouring are mixed to create a moist, paste-like substance that is portioned and packaged in small pouches or loose form.

The most significant difference between snus and traditional cigarettes is the method of consumption. Snus is a smokeless product that is placed in the mouth, typically under the upper lip, while traditional cigarettes are smoked. Both snus and cigarettes deliver nicotine to the user, but the absorption process differs. Snus provides a slower, more sustained release of nicotine through the oral mucosa, while cigarettes deliver nicotine rapidly through inhalation.

Cigarette smoke contains thousands of harmful compounds produced by the combustion process, including tar and carbon monoxide, which are linked to various health issues. Snus, on the other hand, avoids combustion and the associated harmful compounds, making it a potentially less harmful alternative.

It’s important to note that while snus is considered by some to be a potentially less harmful alternative to smoking, it is not without health risks. It still delivers nicotine which is addictive and extremely difficult to recover from, and its use is associated with certain health concerns, such as an increased risk of oral cancer and gum disease.

How Is Snus Used?

Snus comes in two primary forms, portion snus and loose snus. Portion snus is the most common form of snus and comes pre-portioned in small tea bag-like pouches. These pouches are placed under the upper lip, and the user holds them there for an extended period, allowing the nicotine and flavour to be absorbed through the oral mucosa. The duration of use can vary, but most users keep the portion snus pouch under their lip for about 30 minutes to 1 hour or longer. Some may choose to remove it earlier or leave it in for an extended period if they desire a stronger nicotine effect.

Whereas loose snus is a finely ground tobacco product that users form into a small, cylindrical shape using their fingerswhich is then placed under the upper lip. The duration of use for loose snus can also vary, but it typically ranges from 30 minutes to 1 hour or more, depending on personal preference. Some users prefer to create a snug fit with their loose snus, which can require some practice.

Is Snus Dangerous?

One of the key potential benefits of snus is that it may be a less harmful alternative to smoking. Snus is a smokeless tobacco product, which means it doesn’t involve combustion, and as a result, it doesn’t produce harmful tar and many of the carcinogens associated with smoking. Some smokers have successfully transitioned to snus as a means of reducing their exposure to harmful substances.

Snus delivers nicotine, which is the addictive substance in cigarettes. For smokers trying to quit, snus can provide a source of nicotine that helps reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings, making it easier to gradually reduce or eliminate nicotine dependence.

However, snus use has been linked to an increased risk of oral cancer, including cancers of the mouth, throat, and oesophagus. The risk is significantly lower compared to smoking, but it is not negligible, especially with long-term and heavy use. Snus is also associated with other oral health risks, including an increased risk of gum disease (periodontal disease) and oral lesions. It can also cause receding gums and tooth discolouration. Prolonged use of snus can contribute to these issues.

Like any other tobacco product, snus contains nicotine which is highly addictive, using snus may sustain or even worsen nicotine dependence. This can be a concern if individuals continue to use snus for an extended period or if they use it as a substitute for smoking without a clear plan to quit nicotine use altogether. There is also concern that snus use, especially among young people, could serve as a gateway to cigarette smoking. Individuals who start using snus may later transition to smoking, which has much higher health risks.

Comparing Snus vs Other Tobacco Products

Comparing snus to cigarettes, cigars, and other forms of smokeless tobacco involves considering differences in terms of harm and addiction potential.  Michael Steinberg, MD, MPH, director of the tobacco dependence programme at Rutgers University stated, “Compared to cigarette smoking, the use of snus is probably less harmful […] But there’s a big difference between ‘less harmful’ and safe.”

Snus is generally considered less harmful than cigarettes because it doesn’t involve combustion, and therefore, it doesn’t produce harmful tar and many carcinogens found in cigarette smoke. While snus is not without risks, the risks associated with smoking are significantly higher, including an increased risk of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases. Like cigarettes, cigars involve combustion, and the smoke contains harmful substances, including tar and carcinogens. This makes cigars more harmful than snus in terms of overall health risks.

Snus is often considered less harmful than other forms of smokeless tobacco, such as chewing tobacco, snuff, and dip. Like other smokeless tobacco products, snus contains nicotine and can lead to addiction. However, the rate and extent of nicotine absorption can differ between products. For example, snuff and dip may provide a faster nicotine release compared to snus.

While snus is not risk-free and can still lead to nicotine addiction, it is generally considered a less harmful alternative to cigarettes and some other forms of smokeless tobacco. The primary advantage of snus is that it avoids the harmful effects of combustion associated with smoking. However, individuals considering the use of snus as a harm reduction strategy should be aware of the potential health risks.

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