Morgantown, W.Va. They’re discreet, flavorful and come in cute tin boxes with names like “frost” and “spice.” And the folks who created Joe Camel are hoping Camel Snus will become a hit with tobacco lovers tired of being forced outside for a smoke.
But convincing health officials and smokers like Ethan Flint that they’re worth a try may take some work.
Snus — Swedish for tobacco, rhymes with “noose” — is a tiny, tea bag-like pouch of steam-pasteurized, smokeless tobacco to tuck between the cheek and gum. Aromatic to the user and undetectable to anyone else, it promises a hit of nicotine without the messy spitting associated with chewing tobacco. Just swallow the juice.
“I think I’d rather throw up in my mouth,” says Flint, an 18-year-old West Virginia University student, emerging from a convenience store with a pack of Winstons and a coupon for free Camel Snus. “I’d rather not swallow anything like that.”
Reynolds America Inc., the nation’s No. 2 tobacco company, can also expect resistance from the public health community. Experts wonder whether snus will help wean people off cigarettes and snuff, or just foster a second addiction. While snus has been around, it hasn’t been prominent in this country.
“I think we’re all holding our breath in terms of what’s going to be coming down the pike,” says Dorothy Hatsukami, director of the Tobacco Use Research Center at the University of Minnesota. “There’s not much known about these products — what’s in these products, how they’re going to be used, who’s going to be using them and what the effects of that use will be. ... Will it create more harm or less harm?”
Reynolds is confident its new product will find a following. It launched Camel Snus in Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore., in 2006, and has since expanded to test markets nationwide, with customers in nearly every state. Early next year, it’s taking snus national with a marketing blitz that spokesman David Howard says will include direct mail, print and Web advertising, and point-of-sale promotions.
Popular for decades in Sweden, where it was invented, snus has been banned in every other European Union nation since 2004 over concerns about carcinogens.
But smokeless tobacco is legal in the U.S., where there are two schools of thought: Some researchers suggest the lower risk of lung cancer makes snus an attractive alternative to smoking, while others fear an increase in problems including mouth lesions or pancreatic cancer.
The American Cancer Society supports any tool that helps smokers quit. “But we don’t have any good scientific evidence that snus is one of those tools,” said Tom Glynn, director of cancer science and trends.