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Snus as likely to cause type 2 diabetes as smoking, Swedes warned

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Snus as likely to cause type 2 diabetes as smoking, Swedes warned
A man using snus: Swedish snuff. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT
15:14 CET+01:00
A quirk of Sweden is that cigarettes are not the most popular tobacco product in the country, with that title instead going to snus. But now, researchers have warned that Swedish snuff is just as likely to increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as smoking, casting doubt on the perception that it is a risk-free alternative to cigarettes.

According to Sweden's Public Health Agency, 19 percent of men and four percent of women in Sweden use snus – tobacco which is placed under the lip rather than smoked. By comparison, only 16.7 percent in the country smoke, the lowest number of any EU nation, according to Eurostat.

But now, researchers from Umeå University, Lund University and the Karolinska Institute have shed light on the damage snus can cause, compiling data from five different studies which followed a total of 54,500 people between 1990 and 2013 in order to analyse the effects of snus consumption.

And the study, published in The Journal of International Medicine, shows that consuming one or more pots of snus per day increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 70 percent – the same level of risk previously shown among smokers who consume a packet of cigarettes per day.

Consuming five to six pots of snus per week increases the risk by 40 percent, meanwhile, showing that there are still effects at a lower level of intake.

"The current picture in Sweden is that snus is not as dangerous as smoking, and there is some evidence for that too, but importantly, there haven't been that many studies on Swedish snus," Dr Sofia Carlsson, a researcher at Karolinska Institute told The Local.

"Our results suggest you should leave both snus and smoking alone if you want to reduce your risk of diabetes," she added, noting that staying healthy and active in general is also key.

The source of the danger with snus is nicotine, which has been shown to hamper insulin sensitivity. If insulin deteriorates too much it can lead to type 2 diabetes, and snus users take in as much nicotine as smokers do.

Where snus does differ from cigarettes however is in the links with other illnesses like heart disease and cancer.

"The link with heart disease and cancer is much weaker than with smoking, which isn't so strange if you consider that those who use snus aren't exposed to many of the other potentially dangerous substances there are in tobacco smoke – with the exception of the tobacco itself," Dr Carlsson explained.

"More research is ongoing from the collaboration project which produced the current study, so more results will be produced in the future on things such as cancer, which will be useful to give us a new, more collated assessment of the impact snus has on health," she added.

The study showed that the Västerbotten province in northern Sweden was the part of the country which consumed the most snus.

The export of snus to other European Union countries is banned by the EU.

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