Smokeless Tobacco

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Smokeless tobacco is one of the oldest forms of tobacco in the world.


Consumed either orally or nasally, by chewing, sucking or sniffing, smokeless tobacco delivers nicotine without combustion. There are many different forms of smokeless tobacco products consumed globally, but they can be roughly divided into two categories: snuff (finely ground or cut tobacco) and chewing tobacco (whole leaf, plug or twist tobacco).

Although all smokeless tobacco products are addictive, they do not involve combustion, carry no risks associated with smoke inhalation (including respiratory disease and lung cancer), and are generally accepted to be less hazardous than smoking. 1 However, the individual risk profile of smokeless tobacco products varies significantly, with some products having considerably lower toxin levels than others.2

Around 2010 snus, a Scandinavian product, was reportedly regarded by the tobacco industry as having the best growth potential in markets without an established tradition of smokeless tobacco use, due to its spit-free, discrete nature and potential to be recognised as a reduced harm cigarette alternative.3 Because of these features, tobacco industry journals speculated that of all tobacco products in the market, snus may be the industry’s ‘miracle cure’ to a ‘post-cigarette era’.45

Big Tobacco’s Interest in Smokeless Tobacco

The early 2000s saw an increasing investment in smokeless tobacco from the big cigarette companies. With growing regulatory pressure against them and against cigarettes, particularly in the form of public smoking bans, companies seemed to be reframing their business by investing in other newer nicotine and tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes and, later, heated tobacco products. (Tobacco companies have called “next generation products” – see the page on product terminology for details)

Interest by the big cigarette companies in smokeless tobacco was not, however, new. A paper by Carpenter et al demonstrated that Philip Morris had examined entry to the US market via acquisition in the 1980s, and via its own Marlboro smokeless tobacco in the early 1990s. A 2011 report by the University of Bath6 shows that British American Tobacco and the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company (UST) explored opportunities and test markets in Europe in the 1970s and 1980s; that young people were their key target; and that their interest was based on the potential for creating a new tobacco epidemic. Smokeless tobacco was seen as a product for “beginners” who would previously have taken up smoking, and smokers who would otherwise quit or smoke less (for example in smoke free environments).

An editorial in public health journal Addiction (2012) suggested we should not be fooled by industry investments in potentially reduced risk products like snus, highlighting that Philip Morris USA was advertising its Marlboro snus ‘for when you can’t smoke’, thus encouraging dual use instead of smoking cessation.7 Further evidence from the US, where smokeless tobacco is freely available, confirms that smokeless tobacco is marketed as a tobacco alternative in smoke free environments. This would suggest that contrary to the industry’s discourse on harm reduction, and the favoured approach by public health experts advocating tobacco harm reduction, the industry appears to have little intention of promoting snus use as a permanent switch from smoking.89

TobaccoTactics Resources

TCRG Research

Transnational Tobacco Company Interests in Smokeless Tobacco in Europe: Analysis of Internal Industry Documents and Contemporary Industry Materials, S. Peeters, A.B. Gilmore, PLoS Medicine, 2013; 10(9):1001506

For a comprehensive list of all TCRG publications, including TCRG research that evaluates the impact of public health policy, go to the Bath TCRG’s list of publications.

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  1. Royal College of Physicians. Harm reduction in nicotine addiction: helping people who can’t quit. A report by the Tobacco Advisory Goup of the Royal College of Physicians. London: RCP, 2007
  2. IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. Smokeless tobacco and some tobacco-specific N-nitrosamines. IARC monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans. World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer, 2007;89:1-592.
  3. Euromonitor International, Smokeless Tobacco – Is it the Future of the Industry? April 2010 (paywall)
  4. Gay G. Shifting Gears. Tobacco Reporter, September 2011
  5. Smokeless tobacco: the industry’s miracle cure?, Tobacco Journal International, 2009
  6. Peeters, S. & A. Gilmore, A report on the tobacco industry rationale and approach to expand sales of smokeless tobacco (snus) in the European Union. A Pricing Policies and Control of Tobacco in Europe (PPACTE) output, 2011, University of Bath
  7. Nigel Gray, (2012) Editorial: Has Marlboro hijacked tobacco harm reduction? Addiction, 107, p1029-1030
  8. Carpenter, CM. et al, (2008) Developing smokeless tobacco products for smokers: an examination of tobacco industry documents. Tobacco Control, 18, p54-59
  9. Mejia, A.B & Ling, P,M., (2010) Tobacco Industry Consumer Research on Smokeless Tobacco Users and Product Development. American Journal of Public Health, 100 (1), p78-87