BBC highlights snus’s potential to help cut UK smoking rates

Swedish snus played a starring role in a recent BBC news segment exploring the smokeless tobacco product’s potential to help cut UK smoking rates.

The segment also features Professor David Nutt, an expert in addiction at the Imperial College of London who has studied the impact of snus on public health in Sweden.

“The Swedes who use snus seem not to have any of the harms that you associate smoking,” Nutt explains in the BBC Points West segment that aired on March 22. 

“Lung cancer rates in Sweden in men are as low as in non-smoking populations elsewhere in the world. So it’s removed almost all harms of tobacco.”

Nutt, who has previously courted controversy in the UK over his views about risks associated with recreational drug use, has been one of many prominent voices pushing for snus to be legalised in the UK.

In the wake of Brexit, a lively debate has emerged in the UK about the merits of legalising snus.

Goal: cutting UK smoking rates by 2030

Independence from the European Union opens the door for UK policymakers to jettison the EU-mandated ban on snus. Furthermore, the government wants to make the UK smokefree by 2030. 

Vaping has already been recognised as a way to help cut UK smoking rates. And harm reduction advocates argue that snus and tobacco-free nicotine pouches could also help the UK replicate the success of Sweden in cutting smoking rates.

During a parliamentary debate in June 2021, health minister Jo Churchill promised an evidence-based review of the UK’s ban on snus. 

The comments came shortly after House of Lords’ health secretary Lord Bethell also said the UK government would “review the evidence” regarding snus to determine “if any future regulatory changes should be considered”.

Uncertainty over UK stance on snus

However, doubts have recently emerged over the extent to which the UK government is ready to embrace snus. 

In February, Scottish National Party MP Martyn Day posed a parliamentary question to Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department of Health and Social Care Maggie Throup why the government hadn’t completed an assessment of the health risks of snus.

“The Department has not undertaken its own formal review of snus as it is banned in the United Kingdom and we have no plans to introduce additional tobacco products to the market,” Throup answered.

In the BBC report and a March letter to The Times newspaper, Professor Nutt lamented that the UK Department of Health and Social Care had failed to assess the potential benefits of snus, despite evidence from Scandinavia about its potential as a less harmful alternative to smoking.

In the Times letter, Nutt suggested that newly appointed UK “anti-smoking tsar” Javed Khan should copy the “Scandinavian way of reducing smoking”.

“In Scandinavia, smoking has already been all but eliminated by allowing smokers to switch to pasteurised snus, an oral product from which carcinogens are removed.” he wrote.