TCS Daily


Snus or Lose

By Chresten Anderson - June 15, 2005 12:00 AM

New findings by Professor Brad Rodu from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Professor Michael Kunze from the University of Vienna reveal just how harmful the European Union's ban on smokeless tobacco is: very harmful. At a recent meeting with MarkedsCentret, a Danish free market think tank, both professors agreed that the ban has severe consequences in terms of European smoke-related deaths.

Rodu claims that the EU could save around 200,000 lives a year by lifting its ban on most kinds of smokeless tobacco, including the Swedish variety known as "snus". This is based on a survey conducted in Sweden, which is the only EU country where smokeless tobacco is allowed. Rodu's data show that there are an equal amount of tobacco users in Sweden as in the rest of Europe. However the consumption of smoking tobacco is far lower than in any other European country. According to Dr. Rodu this is because of Swedes have access to healthier alternatives to smoking tobacco including snus.

According to Rodu and his counterpart Kunze, who is a member of the EU Tobacco Expert Working Group, all the risks connected with smoking either are non-existent or are significantly reduced when using the smokeless alternatives. Both scientists say smokeless tobacco is between 90-98 percent less harmful than smoking tobacco since it carries no risks for lung cancer, emphysema or heart disease. In Sweden the cases of these illnesses are accordingly lower thanks to the much healthier Swedish ways of consuming nicotine. On this basis the survey authors estimate that the EU authorities could save around 200,000 lives per year by adopting the "Swedish Model" and legalizing snus.

There are other reasons to consider lifting the ban. With all the talk of the dangers of passive smoking, and bans on smoking in public places in Ireland, tobacco users would be much better helped if the EU lifted the ban on smokeless tobacco products. Moreover, the ban is inconsistent - since certain smokeless tobacco products are legal while most are not. And there doesn't seem to be any logical or medical reason for the peculiar distinction between traditional Danish kinds of smokeless tobacco which are legal but less popular and the illegal but much more popular Swedish "snus".

In Sweden the popularity of smokeless tobacco is mainly a male phenomenon. However Rodu has observed that newer and more sophisticated smokeless tobacco-brands are making women change their smoking habits, too. He is also seeing the same changes in the patterns of nicotine consumption in the US - where the law and industry leave plenty of room for less lethal alternatives to the burning and inhaling of nicotine. Both scientists agree that nicotine is an addictive substance. However their mission is not to avoid addiction - but as they both plainly put it "to save lives".

Kunze feels that the moral responsibilities as well as the legal implications of the EU ban ought to be discussed. "The heart of the matter is that the EU ban is keeping the consumer from receiving the nicotine in the least harmful way," he said. He finds it highly probable that someone suffering from the a smoking-related disease but who has been legally kept from healthier alternatives to smoking tobacco in the near future will be taking EU authorities to court.

Rodu's data show that Swedish males over the past 50 years have had one of the lowest levels of consumption of smoking tobacco. Even though the smokers' share of the overall population is the same as in the rest of Europe the male Swede smokes on average half the amount as the average European smoker. Not surprisingly Sweden has the highest consumption of smokeless tobacco in the developed world.

Rodu finds the difference in terms of health between smoking tobacco and consuming nicotine in a non-smoking way significant: only 67 percent of the smoking population reaches the age of 70 while some 87 percent of the non-smoking consumers of nicotine.

The results of Dr. Brad Rodu's work is presented at the University of Alabama's home page at http://main.uab.edu/smokersonly/show.asp?durki=63612 .

Dr. Michael Kunze's recent publications on tobacco issues can be found on www.nicotineinstitute.com .

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