Major study links ‘snus’ to cancer

Visitors to Scandinavia could be forgiven for thinking that a significant number of the men have a congenital malformation of the upper lip. Actually they're just stuffing small pouches of chewing tobacco, or 'snus' under it.

As if the horrific breath and stained teeth aren’t argument enough to stop, researchers have now sounded a new cancer warning bell about the snus habit. A study carried out by the World Health Organisation and released this week followed 10,000 Norwegians, of whom two-thirds were snus-lovers. The results show that users of the popular chewing tobacco increase their risk of contracting mouth or pancreatic cancer by 67%.

At the same time a study has been commissioned by Sweden’s National Institute of Public Health to assess the risk of using the small tobacco pouches under the lip.

“Chemical substances such as nitrosamines, as well as the way the snus is used, the frequency and the level of mouth hygiene all contribute to the risk of cancer,” says Anders Ahlbom, Professor of Epidemiology at the Karolinska Institute and the Swedish delegate to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Chewing tobacco of the snus type is also widely used in the United States, with other forms of chewing tobacco prevalent in Asian and African countries.

“In earlier studies it was difficult to establish a link between mouth cancer and the type of chewing tobacco we use in Sweden,” continued Anders Ahlblom. Consequently in 2001, the regular cancer warnings were taken off snus packaging giving the impression that it was a healthier alternative to smoking.

It seems that using snus may also be linked to pancreatic cancer, the fifth most common cause of cancer death in Europe and USA. At recent eight-day gathering, IARC experts analysed and discussed all the available research on the topic. The researchers at IARC say that they now know that snuff has a stronger cancer effect than was known before.

The WHO is also expected to issue a warning about the relationship between chewing tobacco and mouth cancer, as well as the new tie to pancreatic cancer.

In the meantime, Swedish Match, Scandinavia’s leading manufacturer of chewing tobacco, is currently investing their marketing crowns in the former eastern bloc countries, citing snus as the “safe alternative to smoking” argument. No doubt the recent findings will affect the sales of their leading product.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter,, Aftonbladet, Dagens Industri

Lysanne Sizoo

Lysanne Sizoo is a certified Counsellor, specialising in bereavement, fertility and cultural assimilation issues. She also runs a support and discussion group for English speaking women. You can contact her on [email protected], or 08 717 3769. More information on