Snus: a compelling harm reduction alternative to cigarettes

Harm Reduct J. 2019 Nov 27;16(1):62. doi: 10.1186/s12954-019-0335-1.


Snus is an oral smokeless tobacco product which is usually placed behind the upper lip, either in a loose form or in portioned sachets, and is primarily used in Sweden and Norway. The purpose of this review is to examine the reported effects of snus use in relation to specified health effects, namely lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, pancreatic cancer, diabetes, oral cancer and non-neoplastic oral disease. The review also examines the harm reduction potential of snus as an alternative to cigarettes by comparing the prevalence of snus use and cigarette smoking, and the reported incidence of tobacco-related diseases across European Union countries. The scientific literature generally indicates that the use of snus is not a significant risk factor for developing lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, pancreatic cancer or oral cancer. Studies investigating snus use and diabetes have reported that high consumption of snus (estimated as being four or more cans per week) may be associated with a higher risk of developing diabetes or components of metabolic syndrome; however, overall results are not conclusive. Snus use is associated with the presence of non-neoplastic oral mucosal lesions which are reported to heal rapidly once use has stopped. The most recent Eurobarometer data from 2017 reported that Sweden had the lowest prevalence of daily cigarette use in the European Union at 5% whilst daily "oral tobacco" use was reported to be 20%. European data published by the World Health Organisation in 2018 indicated that Sweden had the lowest rate of tobacco-related mortality and the lowest incidence of male lung cancer. Overall, prevalence statistics and epidemiological data indicate that the use of snus confers a significant harm reduction benefit which is reflected in the comparatively low levels of tobacco-related disease in Sweden when compared with the rest of Europe. The available scientific data, including long-term population studies conducted by independent bodies, demonstrates that the health risks associated with snus are considerably lower than those associated with cigarette smoking.

Keywords: Cigarette smoking; Epidemiology; Harm reduction; Health effects; Public health; Snus; Tobacco.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cause of Death
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Europe
  • Harm Reduction*
  • Humans
  • Myocardial Infarction / etiology
  • Myocardial Infarction / mortality
  • Odds Ratio
  • Public Health
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Smoking / mortality
  • Smoking Cessation / methods*
  • Smoking Cessation / statistics & numerical data
  • Tobacco, Smokeless* / adverse effects