From Our Team
As cigarette smoking rates continue to decline, tobacco companies are not taking defeat lying down. RJ Reynolds and Phillip Morris continue to develop new products in order to recruit new users. On February 13th, Dr. Erin Sutfin of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center traveled to El Paso to discuss these products with members of the Paso del Norte regional Smoke Free Network. Dr. Sutfin is a developmental psychologist who researches tobacco use, particularly among adolescents and young adults. Among other topics, she discussed snus (rhymes with “goose”), a new product peddled by big tobacco.
Snus is flavored tobacco, packaged in little pouches, like tea bags. The product is smokeless and spitless. Snus users place the tobacco pouch between the lip and the gum. However, snus users do not spit out the colorful excess saliva produced by other forms of dipping tobacco. While snus marketing materials don’t explain what to do with any extra saliva produced, the “spitless” advertisements imply that one is supposed to swallow it. Originally developed in Sweden, three snus products are common in the United States: Camel Snus (RJ Reynolds), Marlboro Snus (Phillip Morris), and Skoal Snus (U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company). Through my own informal survey of El Paso area convenience stores, Camel Snus seems to be more widely available in our area than its competitors.
Snus marketing materials purport that “you can enjoy it anytime, anywhere.” In other words, it can be used in environments where smoking isn’t allowed, such as restaurants, bars, workplace, and airplanes. In this regard, there is evidence that smokers use snus in conjunction with cigarettes, switching to snus when the environment does not allow smoking. Strangely, Camel Snus is stored in small, countertop refrigerators at convenience stores, even though the product is typically used at room temperature. At one El Paso store, the refrigerator is covered with the slogan “sabor sin calor.”
Since the products are relatively new to the United States, the research on their health effects is limited. Research from Sweden finds that male snus users, in comparison to non-tobacco users, have a higher incidence of pancreatic cancer, but no difference in lung or oral cancers. It should be noted that Sweden has strict regulation of the manufacturing process and the ingredients in snus, whereas U.S. regulation of the product is minimal. Dr. Sutfin summarizes, “While some snus users believe it to be safer than cigarettes, we don’t yet have enough evidence to claim snus is or is not less harmful than cigarettes. What we do know is that there is no safe level of tobacco use.”
From a public health standpoint, one major concern is that snus may become an entry-level product luring youth into heavier tobacco use. U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company’s internal company documents explain that new users of smokeless tobacco “are more likely to begin with products that are milder tasting,” and then later transition to products with a “more concentrated ‘tobacco taste’ than the entry brand.” Recent data in Texas find that 7% of youth (grades 6-12) have tried snus, with more males than females identified as users. While a cause/effect relationship has not been identified, there is an association between snus and cigarette use among youth.
How can you protect children from snus? The advice is the same used to prevent cigarette use. Let your child know that tobacco, smoked and smokeless, is incompatible with your family’s values. Even though we perceive that teens do not listen, research shows that parents’ attitudes toward tobacco do influence teen behavior. If you are a smoker or smokeless tobacco user, quitting is the best thing that you can do for your children. While words are important, actions are even more powerful. Parent/guardian use of tobacco is strongly correlated with future youth use.
If you are interested in quitting, access the Quitline at (915) 534-QUIT or the free web-based Quitnet at www.smokefree.quitnet.com.
Set Your Date to Quit Smoking – a local cessation resource www.setyourdate.org
My Rule: Live Outside the Pack – a prevention resource for local youth www.liveoutsidethepack.com
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