A remarkable thing happened this past weekend. The first-ever snus convention in the United States was held in St. Louis, Missouri. Down a rather nondescript hallway on the third floor of a hotel, there was a small conference room with a speakerâs dais, projection screen, and about 40 chairs. Despite its modest appearance, one couldnât escape the feeling you were witnessing something of great importance, perhaps historical. Kudos to Chad Jones (snubie.com) for his leadership in organizing this event.
This was no snus equivalent of a vape expo. There was no grand hall with flashy vendor booths where snus users could sample and discuss the latest products. There was no swag, blaring music, or snus girls on hoverboards flitting about. Not that the snus community would roll this way if they could. Snus is decidedly low tech, which makes snusers (as they sometimes call themselves) decidedly low key. There are no ohms, coils, mods, or cloud trick equivalents. Just a tin of finely ground tobacco, a small portion of which is placed between the gum and lip. Done. Enjoy. What snusers and vapers have most in common is they talk a great deal about flavor and nicotine level. When they talk about flavor, Iâm reminded of people talking about wine (âsolid tobacco base with notes of bergamotâ). In snus, like in vaping, nicotine comes with a peppery sensation. The higher it is, the more it tends to sting. But, just like vapers, snusers all seem to have their preferred nicotine level and list of favorite flavors.
Unfortunately, the organizers and snus makers were too scared of running afoul of FDA regulations if they set up booths and allowed tasting, even if one had to pay. I find this a tad bit galling. FDA regulations have fostered a climate that actively discourages a group of adults (IDs checked at the door) from sampling a perfectly legal product. A product that could save smokers from the early death and disease if only they could find a snus they liked. But what the FDA could not discourage was the attendeesâ passion for snus, how it had changed their lives for the better, and their sense of community.
People talked about how they came to be snusers, how they were trying desperately to get off cigarettes, and found relief and satisfaction in snus. Some talked about how they were able to quit smoking with vaping, but were still missing something: a genuine tobacco flavor experience. People talked about their favorite snus brands and types of flavors. There was a tasting panel that discussed not only their experience as it was happening, but also their personal methods for conducting an honest tasting. And then there was science. Serious science.
Doctors Brad Rodu, DDS, (Professor, University of Louisville School of Medicine) and Lars Eric Rutqvist, MD, Ph.D. (Senior Vice President of Scientific Affairs, Swedish Match) each spoke of their âroad to Damascusâ moment about how they discovered the truth about the very low risk of snus. Both medical professionals, they were steeped in the long-held belief that using smokeless tobacco came with significant dangers. But, independently, they went through nearly identical realizations when confronted with evidence before their very eyes. Brad, an oral pathologist, had viewed hundreds of oral cancer biopsy slides from smokers, heavy drinkers, and users of a rare niche form of smokeless tobacco called dry snuff. But he couldnât recall seeing a single cancer slide from a user of only moist snus. Likewise, Lars, making his rounds as a head and neck oncologist, couldnât recall a single case of oral cancer in an exclusive snus user. When he asked his colleagues, none of them could remember a single case either. Being good scientists, Rodu and Rutqvist followed up their observations with several large-scale epidemiological studies. The verdict was clear: Oral cancer in exclusive snus users is extraordinarily rare. (For a more complete picture of health effects and smokeless tobacco visit Brad Roduâs website.)
One would think this would be a groundbreaking discovery in public health. That the clarion call would go out for smokers to switch to snus. But then, one needs to understand the motives of those with the largest megaphones in charge of protecting public health. Their goal is nothing short of a âtobacco-free world.â Snus being so low risk subverts this goal. So, it is drowned out by a fierce program of propaganda about carcinogens, gum disease, and a litany of other emotionally laden distractions designed to hide the unassailable truth that snus is low risk. Thereâs no telling how many smokers have come to harm from this decades-long misinformation campaign.
In his presentation, Lars also made a couple of key observations. Many countries, when joining the EU, are granted exemptions from EU rules, but the exemptions are time limited and phased out over several years. Sweden is the only EU country to have a permanent exemption. Against EU rules, they will be allowed to sell snus indefinitely. For the Swedish people, giving up their snus was a deal-breaker. Snus had been banned in the EU for years when e-cigarettes and a legion of passionate vapers snuck up on the European Parliament. The EU would have been happy to simply ban e-cigarettes just like they had snus, but too many people were already praising and using these products. So, they could not. They had to allow them. Lars made a rather obvious point that bears repeating: politicians can treat convincing science like gnats, bat them away, and just do what they want. But they canât bat away the passion of a large number of people. Politicians can swamp science, but the people can swamp politicians. Â Â
Many vapers donât give snus a second thought. They should start. The fight for snus is the fight for vaping. Snus is low risk for much the same reason e-cigarettes are low risk: No combustion. Winning the publicâs hearts and minds for one is a win for both. Vapers may grumble about the powerful forces that lie about and seek to destroy the products we credit with saving our lives, but the snus world has been dealing with this for the past several decades. Make no mistake, the playbook thatâs been used in an attempt to destroy smokeless tobacco is the very same one being used on e-cigarettes today. This is why vapers should respect and seek alliance with our snus using brothers and sisters. Together, we just might form an unstoppable force that politicians will be forced to yield to.
History is replete with small events involving just a few people getting together and triggering massive changes in culture and politics. Something is brewing, something big, among the lovers of the most popular low-risk tobacco product. Mark well this past weekend. There was a snus convention in St. Louis.
Dr. Brian Carter
CASAA Director of Scientific Communications