How false information about snus affects public health in Norway

Medical research clearly demonstrates that snus is a lesser risk to health than smoking, but the myth that snus and cigarettes carry equivalent health risks persists, hampering efforts to improve public health according to a new study from Norway.

According to Relative Risk Perceptions between Snus and Cigarettes in a Snus-Prevalent Society, a new report from researchers at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), this persistent misunderstanding is thwarting efforts to improve public health.

Although Norway was one of the first countries in the world to introduce a smoking ban in pubs, 12 percent of the population still smoke daily, according to figures from 2018. 

The important role of snus in smoking cessation has been highlighted in several Norwegian studies, and today the transition to snus is the most common way to quit smoking in the country. 

But more people might have stopped smoking if knowledge about snus as an alternative had been more widespread, the report found. 

Systematically overestimated health risks

The report mirrors findings of E-cigarettes and Non-combustible Tobacco Products, a study by researchers at Rutgers University, which showed that most American smokers believe snus is as dangerous to health as cigarettes. 

According to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the situation is roughly the same in Norway, with Norwegians believing that the risk from daily snus is equal to 80 percent of the health risks associated with daily smoking. 

The health risks of smokeless tobacco products are therefore being systematically overestimated compared to those of smoking. 

Medical research suggests that the overall health risks from Swedish snus are only 10 percent of those from smoking.

The health benefits of snus 

The IPH study also examined the risk that non-smokers might start using snus if the public image of snus and its health effects were adjusted according to medical expertise. 

They found that it would require between 14 to 25 non-smokers to begin using snus to generate an equivalent health burden to just one daily smoker. 

As a result, they conclude that Norway’s health authorities should become better at informing the population about the real health effects of snus, and thereby decrease the number of smokers and improve public health overall.