The Food and Drug Administration in the United States is to vote later on Friday on whether or not to soften health warnings on the moist powdered tobacco product.
Snus (pronounced a bit like the English word 'snooze') is Sweden's most popular tobacco product. It can be bought loose or in small teabag-like parcels that are placed under the lip.
The country's smoking rates are the lowest in Europe and the figures are attributed by many snus proponents to smokers switching to the moist tobacco. Dr Lars Erik Rutqvist, senior vice president of scientific affairs for Stockholm based company Swedish Match, argued in an interview with the New York Times ahead of the vote that it presents a healthier – or less harmful – alternative to smoking.
Rutqvist cited figures saying 11 percent of Swedish men smoke and 21 percent use snus, compared to in 1989 when the corresponding figures where 27 and 17 percent.
“Society should have something to offer the 45 million people in the United States who still smoke and are just not able to quit,” he told the New York Times.
'Snus' is popular in Sweden. Photo: Marianne Løvland / NTB scanpix / TT
Swedish Match has been making its case over the course of two days, presenting 135,000 pages of data and case studies. But things are not looking bright for the company.
In the FDA's preliminary report, the agency said it had found no evidence of a link between snus and lung cancer or chronic pulmonary disease. But it disputed the company's proposed warning, which states: “No tobacco product is safe, but this product presents substantially lower risks to health than cigarettes.”
The agency said a number of studies had found associations between the moist tobacco and pancreatic cancer, stroke, heart attacks and diabetes, and voiced concern “with respect to whether [the proposed warning label] adequately reflects the health risks of using snus”.
And Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, a US antismoking group, told the New York Times: "All of the data from Sweden indicates that products that meet the Swedish standards still increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and pose a risk of pancreatic and esophageal cancer and are harmful if used by pregnant women."
Swedish Match's top market for its snus is unsurprisingly Scandinavia, while the EU has consistently voted to maintain a 1992 ban on the company exporting the product to the rest of Europe, despite speculation a few years ago that it could be brought into countries like the UK and France following the introduction of smoking bans in public places. The firm now hopes to grow on the US market, where 1.4 billion cans of snus were sold last year.
Two years ago, Swedish Match won the right to use aroma additives in the product, after European parliamentarians voted to scrap a proposal that would ban flavoured snus.