Friday, October 05, 2007

The Snus is Loose in Sweden

Snus is a smokeless tobacco that can kind of be compared to chew. It comes in the form of small teabag like packets and comes in the same sort of can. The beauty of snus is that you don’t have to spit like you do with regular chew. You stick the packet in your upper lip where apparently there are fewer saliva glands and you just don’t need to spit. The benefits of the upper lip dip.

I’ve snused a few times. Nothing that really appeals to me but there have been drunken adventures when a packet of snus has found its way into my upper lip. It happens to the best of us. Well apparently, the idea is now to make it happen to the rest of us. Or at least Americans. The New York Times wrote an article a little while ago about the snus phenomenon and Business 2.0 wrote an article about a year ago on the import of snus to America.

Snus is very much a Swedish phenomenon and apparently it’s been around for about 200 years. That’s a solid amount of time for something to ingrain itself in the social makeup of a country. In fact, the EU has banned it, but it is such a part of Swedish culture that they were able to write a provision that allowed Sweden to still sell snus but enter the European Union anyway. The EU was afraid that it would be marketed to children. Of course for years you could buy cigarettes with a cartoon character for a mascot so who are we trying to kid.

Swedes love their snus. It’s incredible. The Business 2.0 article says that over one million people use snus. This is a country of only about nine million people. That is an insane percentage of adult users in Sweden. You can’t go to a bar without seeing people pulling some snus out, the used packets are found everywhere. They stick to just about anything right after they’ve been used and despite the Swedes proclamation of being environmentally friendly they love to throw their snus packets against anything and everything. They can be found on the ceilings and walls in just about every subway station in Stockholm. It is foul.

The question is whether snus will catch on in the US. The first test markets were Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon two strongholds of hipster culture which I suppose is close to the American equivalent of a Swedish male. Obviously, there will be barriers. A lot of people seem to be attracted to the idea of a big ‘ol dip in their mouth using spitters or just spitting on the ground. I’m not sure what that attraction is but someone must think it’s cool. Snus moves away from that cowboy attitude to a more streamlined approach to getting your tobacco fix. Hide it a little from the public. A very Swedish approach to things.

Some argue that snus is a safer form of tobacco; of course that’s not exactly a safe marketing idea in the US where any health claim will be attacked with abandon when it involves tobacco. According to the New York Times article, snus hasn’t been linked to mouth or lung cancer but for some reason has been tied to pancreatic cancer. So you might not have to have your jaw removed but the pancreas is still going to take a beating. Pick your poison. Interestingly enough, the two big tobacco companies in America, R.J. Reynolds and Phillip Morris USA, are split on the decision to have the FDA test tobacco products such as snus’s claims of being safer.

Another argument is that it keeps people from smoking, but I don’t totally buy that argument. I know all kinds of Swedes who smoke whenever they get the chance but because of the ban on smoking indoors use snus when they are in a bar or at work or anywhere else they can’t get their nicotine fix right away. The second they step outside though they light up. Snus can’t be looked at as a way to stop smoking. My favorite quote from the New York Times article: “Margaretha Haglund, the director of tobacco prevention for the Swedish National Institute of Public Health. ‘I’m not a health fascist,’ she added, ‘but I don’t believe the solution to the tobacco problem lies in a new product from the tobacco industry.’” Well said. When it comes down to it, snus still has a whole lot of nicotine and is pretty addictive. As good old Ellis Reed likes to say “You snus, you lose.”

Whatever the outcome in the US, there is no fear at all that snus will lose its stranglehold on the smokeless tobacco market here in Sweden. I just can’t see the average guy from Stockholm getting rid of his Ettan Snus for a can of Skoal and carrying a spitter around town with him.


  1. I just realized I had a faulty link in this post. It's been updated now so you should be able to get to the Business 2.0 link if you click on it. Sorry about that.

  2. I got to admit it - I'm a snusare. It's not something I'm proud of but I can't live through a day without taking a snus. I agree with what you're saying snus isn't a solution to the smoking problem. They're both addictive and even though lots of people say that there is no proof of it causing cancer I think it, in rare cases, actually can cause the disease. But you have to give it to us Swedes, it's not as dangerous as cigarettes and it doesn't hurt the people around you like cigarettes. Maybe you should try it

    By the way, snus do not rhyme with loose. It's pronounced with a special U-sound that only exists in Norway and Sweden (I think). Just so you know...

  3. agreed. its not as bad as smoking.

    and I actually have trie dit. doesn't really do much for me.

    and in english "snus" rhymes with "loose" like up top in the title but not with "lose" as my buddy likes to say. and even in swedish "snus" is damn close to rhyming with "loose." but you're right... the u sound is just a little bit different than the double o sound.

    But theres a nice little american saying that says "you snooze you lose" so, in the interest of forcing a rhyme he has done just that.