Introduction: There are few recent longitudinal studies on smokeless tobacco (SLT) products and smoking outside the United States or European Nordic countries. The present longitudinal study tests whether Swedish-type snus and nasal snuff use decreases smoking incidence and prevalence in a central European country.
Methods: The sample consisted of 5198 Swiss men (around 20 years of age). Retention rate was 91.5% over 15 months. Regression models, adjusting for a variety of psychosocial, smoking-related, and other risk factors, assessed whether no, low (less than weekly), and high (weekly or more) use baseline groups showed changes or maintenance in snus and snuff use related to smoking initiation, cessation, and reduction.
Results: Among baseline nonsmokers, snus initiators (OR = 1.90, p = .003) and low baseline maintainers (OR = 4.51, p < .001) were more likely to start smoking (reference: persistent nonusers of snus). Among baseline smokers, initiators (OR = 2.79, p < .001) and low baseline maintainers (OR = 2.71, p = .005) more often continued smoking, whereas snus quitters less frequently continued smoking (OR = 0.57, p = .009). High baseline maintainers were non-significantly less likely to continue smoking (OR = 0.71, p = .315). Among continuing smokers, only snus quitters significantly reduced the number of cigarettes smoked per day (b = -1.61, p = .002) compared with persistent nonusers of snus. Results were similar for snuff.
Conclusions: SLT use did not have any significant beneficial effects on young men in Switzerland but significantly increased the likelihood of smoking initiation and continuation, independent of whether the substance is legally sold (snuff) or not (snus). This does not exclude that there may be beneficial effects at older ages.
Implications: Our research provides evidence that SLT use has no benefits for cigarette smoking initiation, cessation, or reduction among young men in a central European country, where SLT is not highly promoted or receives tax incentives. This is true for both legally sold nasal snuff and Swedish-type snus that cannot be legally sold. Results indicate that without incentives for using it, among young people shifts from smoking to SLT use are questionable and confirms the need for country-specific studies before the global public health community engages in promoting SLT.