Following pleas from a prominent tobacco harm reduction advocate, researchers in Sweden are now examining the relationship between nicotine in snus and Covid-19 using a unique Swedish data set.
“Sweden has a unique opportunity because we are alone in having such widespread use of snus,” Cecilia Magnusson, Adjunct Professor of Public Health Epidemiology at Karolinska Institutet tells the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.
Magnusson, who also runs the Stockholm County’s Centre for Epidemiology and Community Medicine, has co-authored a number of studies examining the health effects of snus, including a study concluding that non-smoking men who used snus had a substantially lower risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Her research group is now examining snus and tobacco use data in Sweden’s unique patient data registries to see if they can find any connection to how different patients were affected by Covid-19.
Snus a safer alternative
News of the study comes following the publication of a Snusforumet guest column by Mark Oates of the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA) in which he argues that widespread use of snus puts Sweden in a unique position to help the world better understand the relationship between nicotine and Covid-19.
“Sweden has already saved thousands of lives thanks to Swedish snus giving people a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes. Let’s hope Sweden can once again seize the opportunity for snus to contribute to reducing the harm associated with Covid-19,” he wrote.
Magnusson tells DN she has also been contacted by researchers in France who are also looking into nicotine’s effects on how symptoms develop in patients infected with the coronavirus.
Snus and Covid-19 connection?
Magnusson says her team could have preliminary results in as little as two months if they are able to gather enough data from existing patient registries. However, if further data is needed, it may take another 8 to 9 months to gather and analyse survey responses from Covid-19 patients.
If researchers in Sweden see indications that snus offers some level of protection against Covid-19, it would strengthen the hypothesis that nicotine binds to the same receptors that the coronavirus uses to enter cells and reproduce. That could eventually lead to nicotine being used as a form of treatment for the illness, says Magnusson.
“It’s possible that people who are currently thinking about quitting snus might choose to wait until after the pandemic,” she told DN.
News of the Swedish research project was welcomed by Oates, a UK-based tobacco harm reduction advocate and founder of the UK Snus Users Association.
“The announcement of this study into nicotine use and Covid-19 patients is excellent news in the fight against this awful virus,” he tells Snusforumet.
“Sweden is in a unique position due to its use of snus and it could well lead to a number of lives being saved around the world.”
Reshape the debate about snus
The results of the study could also help reframe the ongoing debate in Sweden and the European Union about the harm reduction potential of snus, says Patrik Strömer, head of the Association of Swedish Snus Manufacturers (Svenska Snustillverkarföreningen).
“Even before the pandemic, snus had the potential to save more than 350,000 lives a year in Europe by offering a safer nicotine alternative to deadly smoking,” he says.
“This study and others like it should help policymakers in Stockholm, Brussels, and elsewhere understand that not all forms of nicotine delivery are equally harmful and that policies should be based on science rather than anti-tobacco dogma.”