Joseph Hart 6 November 2023


Jo Tweedy at The Mail Online has taken a moment’s break from writing about Kate Middleton to turn her attention to nicotine pouches. Or Snus. Or maybe it was nicotine pouches. I’m just as confused as she is about the two different products.

Tweedy confusion is an extension of a strange condition that blights the Daily Mail. Often, their writers struggle to tell the difference between asylum seekers and illegal migrants. Presumably, this is another one of those blind spots.

Look, I’m not naive. I understand that the Mail is a business. Scaremongering drives clicks, whether that’s about health, people on benefits, or electric vehicles. I also think viewpoint diversity is essential and that the Mail has a place in the public conversation. 

What I object to is bad research. At a minimum, the writer should understand the difference between nicotine pouches and Snus and not wilfully confuse the two products to make inaccurate health claims.

In the article, Tweedy says, “the term ‘Snus’ (pronounced snooze) traditionally refers to tobacco pouches but is now also being used to describe nicotine pods, which contain no tobacco.” 

Maybe you and other journalists are mixing them up, but out here in the real world, that’s not happening. 

Snus is illegal in the UK and much of the rest of Europe. I happen to think it should be legal, but that’s just my opinion. People who are selling nicotine pouches in the UK are certainly not marketing them as snus, whatever your sources (i.e., TikTok videos of teenagers) might be up to.

Erroneous health claims about snus

The article says, “Snus has been linked to heart disease, oral cancer and respiratory conditions.” However, Tweedy doesn’t take the time to back up those claims with any research. 

So, let me get my jeweller’s loupe out and explore each claim individually. This is what bringing the receipts looks like.

Does snus cause oral cancer?

Sweden has a high rate of snus use. It has a very low rate of oral cancer and cancer in general. There have been several studies that have dismantled these claims, and not just recently. We’ve known about this for 25 years. 

Here are two solid population-based studies on the matter.

Smoking tobacco, oral snuff, and alcohol in the etiology of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck: a population-based case-referent study in Sweden (F Lewin, 1998)

Oral snuff, smoking habits, and alcohol consumption in relation to oral cancer in a Swedish case-control study (Schildt, 1998)

Both studies show no increased use of oral cancer among snus users.

Does snus cause heart disease?

This study shows that the risk of cardiovascular disease among snus users is no higher than for non-smokers.

Associations of Smokeless Tobacco Use With Cardiovascular Disease Risk: Insights From the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Study, (Rezk-Hanna, 2022)

Does snus cause respiratory disease?

Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks. Health effects of smokeless tobacco products (Scenihr, 2008) suggest that “snus use carried an overall risk reduction close to 100% for respiratory disease (lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia).”

Missing the point

It seems like it needs to be said, so let me spell it out.

1) Smoking causes 8 million deaths a year across the globe

2) Snus and nicotine pouches are not completely harmless, but they are, in orders of magnitude, less harmful than cigarettes.

3) If our goal is to stop people from dying, let’s encourage them to use less harmful products like pouches.

That’s what Sweden did, and now they have lower cancer rates. Let’s try the thing that worked.

Final thoughts

I know that not all subjects are as fascinating as whether the colour of Kate Middleton’s outfit could affect the result of a rugby match, but couldn’t the Mail Online have passed this article to someone with a little more curiosity?

Smoking is the UK’s most significant cause of preventable death. Filling people’s heads with misinformation about products that could save their lives is a disservice to Jo Tweedy’s loyal readers like “Panty Snifer” from Antwerp, who helpfully pointed out underneath her article that nicotine pouches were banned in Belgium.

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