Is Snus Safe?

Even opponents of snus admit that it releases "cleaner" nicotine than cigarettes. The pasteurization of snus tobacco kills off nitrites (chemical compounds of one part nitrogen and two parts oxygen), especially tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs). TSNAs are one of the primary carcinogens found in tobacco, and have been correlated with cancers of the lungs, oral cavity, esophagus and liver from both cigarette and smokeless tobacco usage. When tobacco is fermented, higher quantities of TSNAs are present.

By refrigerating the snus after production, snus tobacco resists fermentation that tobacco stored at room temperatures undergoes even after its been packaged. Storing tobacco at room temperature for six months increases TSNA levels by 30 to 130 percent, whereas in refrigerated snus tobacco there's no increase in TSNAs [source: Foulds et al.].

According to tobacco researchers, a snus user is 90 percent less likely to get cancer than a smoker [source: Levy et al.]. Because there's no combustion when someone consumes snus, carcinogenic chemicals that lead to lung cancer like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (the byproduct of combustion of the tar in cigarettes), aren't present. In fact, researchers report that there's no statistical difference in lung cancer rates between snus users and those who never use tobacco in any form [source: Foulds et al.].

Unlike dip and chew, which contain higher levels of TSNAs resulting from the fermentation of the tobacco, snus doesn't present a risk of oral or other head cancers [source: Gartner et al.]. On the other hand, smoking doubles the risk of oral cancer and increases the risk of lung cancer tenfold [source: Gartner et al.].

When it comes to tobacco and safety, there's always a catch. One study found that almost nine out of every 100,000 snus users develop pancreatic cancer, compared to 13 out of every 100,000 smokers (and 3.9 nonsmokers) [source: Foulds and Kozlowski]. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most intractable forms of cancer; the majority of cases are diagnosed at a late stage once the disease has spread to other parts of the body, as there are no universal screening methods for earlier detection.

Pregnant women using snus gave birth to babies weighing an average of 1.4 ounces less than non-tobacco users, were twice as likely to deliver prematurely, and are more likely to suffer pre-eclampsia than both smokers and nontobacco users [source: Gartner et al.]. Snus also creates greater risk of oral lesions and tooth decay.

In spite of its risks, tobacco companies have been eager to point out that snus is safer than cigarettes. Keep reading to learn more about how snus has been marketed and regulated.