Smokeless tobacco is one of the oldest forms of tobacco in the world. Consumed either orally or nasally, by chewing, sucking or sniffing, it 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. However, the individual risk profile of smokeless tobacco products varies significantly, with some products having considerably lower toxin levels than others.
According to market research company Euromonitor International, in 2010 two per cent of the global tobacco market value was generated by smokeless tobacco (worth US$ 14 billion), in contrast to nearly 92 per cent by cigarettes (worth US$ 610 billion). Unlike cigarettes, which are a global product, smokeless tobacco is a niche product with consumption concentrated in a few markets. India and the US account for 84 per cent of the global smokeless tobacco market value; Sweden, Norway, Canada and Algeria make up the remaining 15 per cent.
Snus, a Scandinavian product, is 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. Because of these features, tobacco industry journals have speculated that of all tobacco products in the market, snus may be the industry’s ‘miracle cure’ to a ‘post-cigarette era’.
Big Tobacco's Interest in Smokeless Tobacco
The last decade has seen 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 seem to be reframing their business by investing in other tobacco and nicotine products.
However, interest by the big cigarette companies in smokeless tobacco is not new. A paper by Carpenter et al demonstrates 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 Bath shows that British American Tobacco and 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 smokefree environments).
A recent 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 is currently advertising its Marlboro snus ‘for when you can’t smoke’, thus encouraging dual use instead of smoking cessation. Further evidence from the US, where smokeless tobacco is freely available, confirms that smokeless tobacco is being marketed as a tobacco alternative in smokefree 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.
Additional TobaccoTactics Resources
- 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
- 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.
- Euromonitor International, Passport: The future of tobacco, 2011
- Euromonitor International, Global Tobacco Findings 2011: Battle Intensifies, 2011
- Euromonitor International, Smokeless Tobacco - Is it the Future of the Industry? April 2010
- Gay G. Shifting Gears. Tobacco Reporter, September 2011
- Smokeless tobacco: the industry's miracle cure?, Tobacco Journal International, 2009
- 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
- Nigel Gray, (2012) Editorial: Has Marlboro hijacked tobacco harm reduction? Addiction, 107, p1029-1030
- Carpenter, CM. et al, (2008) Developing smokeless tobacco products for smokers: an examination of tobacco industry documents. Tobacco Control, 18, p54-59
- 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