Sat, Feb 25, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Big cigarette companies bet on smokeless tobacco

SNUS POUCHES With rules on smoking getting even stricter, leading cigarette firms are pouring money into an alternative nicotine hit via tobacco that one can suck


The tobacco industry has seen the future and it's smokeless. As countries including England outlaw lighting up in enclosed public places, big cigarette firms are pouring millions of dollars and research hours into developing and promoting a product that delivers the addictive hit of nicotine, without the harm to health caused by cigarette smoke.

"They know the days of the cigarette are numbered. It's a long way off but as circumstances change, cigarette firms believe people will still want nicotine and they see smokeless alternatives as the way forward," said Amanda Sandford, research manager at the British anti-smoking charity Ash.

British American Tobacco (BAT), the UK's biggest tobacco company, confirmed that it wants to sell snus -- smokeless tobacco -- across the EU where, except for Sweden, it is currently banned.

Snus (pronounced `snuz') is a sweet-sized pouch like a teabag that a user places under the lip. It delivers the nicotine hit in roughly a minute -- around nine times slower than a cigarette, but much faster than nicotine patches used in giving up smoking.

In Sweden, snus outsells cigarettes and is credited with helping reduce lung cancer to the lowest rate in the world. Around 16 percent of men use snus, compared with 14 percent who smoke.

BAT is testing snus in South Africa under the Lucky Strike brand, while rival Gallaher has an interest in a Scandinavian company that produces a similar product.

But it could be a long time before snus is approved, if at all. Health watchdogs recall the 1980s, when US tobacco firms brought Skoal Bandits tobacco pouches to the UK. The pouches were banned amid protests over cancer fears.

Significantly, though, health groups are ambiguous about snus. A BAT briefing document quotes Ash as saying it is illogical to keep cigarettes legal "while snus, which is over 100 times less harmful, is barred."

"We wouldn't want to see it promoted as a completely safe alternative," said Ash's Amanda Sandford, stressing such products had been linked to pancreatic and mouth cancers.

"But there is evidence snus gets people off smoking tobacco. We wouldn't want young people to start using it, but in Sweden a lot of middle-aged men have given up smoking because of switching to snus and then have given up snus," she said.

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