In 2008, the European Commission released a report entitled “Health Effects of Smokeless Tobacco Products.” (available here). Except for one small part discussing tobacco harm reduction (Section 3.8, pages 111-118), most of the report was very negative, even denying that snus use has had any effect on smoking in Sweden and Norway.
The report concluded: “It is difficult to envision any significant impact of snus use on smoking cessation in Norway…” This was especially baffling, as Figures 19-22 (pages 42-43) show clearly that increased snus use over the last 20 years was concomitant with decreased smoking.
The Commission report also surprised Dr. Karl Erik Lund, a respected tobacco researcher with SIRUS, the Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research. Lund has 20 years experience in tobacco research and has authored more than 85 journal articles in the fields of tobacco epidemiology, evaluation and prevention. This year, he published landmark studies showing unequivocally that snus use has had a profound impact on smoking in Norway.
Lund’s current study was published in Addiction (abstract here). He compared quit rates, defined as the percentage of ever smokers who are now former smokers, among snus users and never users in seven previously published Norwegian surveys.
|Lund Survey No.||Quit Rate- Snus Users (%)||Quit Rate- Never Snus Users (%)|
As seen in the table, the quit rates for snus users were always higher than for those who had never used snus; the results are statistically significant for all surveys except number 4. This is compelling evidence that snus has played a powerful role in smoking cessation among Norwegians. As Lund notes, it is consistent with the Swedish evidence. Equally important, it is consistent with evidence I have published from federal surveys in the U.S. (discussed in this March blog post).
Earlier this year, Lund published evidence in Nicotine & Tobacco Research that Norwegian men preferred snus over ALL other methods to quit smoking (abstract here).
The SIRUS survey asked 3,583 former or current smokers age 20-50 years what method they used when they last tried successfully (former) or unsuccessfully (current) to quit. Snus was used by 32% of all respondents, making it the most popular method by far. Other methods that enjoyed modest popularity were nicotine gum (18%), self-help material (12%), and the nicotine patch (10%). Nicotine inhaler, Zyban, Champix, telephone quit line, and help from health care professionals were also included in the survey, but they had negligible usage rates.
Lund reported an adjusted odds ratio (AOR) to indicate effectiveness of products compared with nicotine gum, the reference product. For quitting completely, the AOR for snus was 2.7, meaning that it was nearly three times more effective than gum. Snus was also three times more effective than nicotine gum in “greatly reducing cigarette consumption” among continuing smokers (AOR = 3).
Lund observed: “Of those smokers who reported that they had tried to quit by using snus, 62.4% reported that they still used snus at the time of the survey, either daily (43.8%) or occasionally (18.6%)…In comparison, only 9.5% who had used nicotine chewing gum or nicotine patches at the last attempt to quit were still using these medicinal nicotine products at the time of the survey.” In other words, snus was effective precisely because it was a satisfying and enjoyable substitute, rather than an unsatisfying and distasteful temporary medication. This represents the fundamental advantage of a recreational approach to smoking cessation, compared to treating smokers’ nicotine addiction with medications. Smokers aren’t sick; they just want to have safer alternatives.
There is no question that snus is an effective and PERMANENT nicotine substitute for many former smokers. This is important, because a dominant theme in the U.S. is that quit-smoking methods must all eventually lead to permanent nicotine and tobacco abstinence. Given that the outcome measure for all smoking cessation trials in the U.S. is complete abstinence, it is no wonder that most cessation methods are deemed failures. For successful tobacco regulation, the FDA must break the public health community’s addiction to abstinence promotion. Unfortunately, the FDA is still focused on abstinence (here).
Norwegian authorities have a more realistic and rational strategy. Lund and colleagues noted that in 2009, the Norwegian Health Directorate “agreed that health care personnel can recommend snus in individual cases of inveterate smokers.” It is refreshing that the directorate recognizes that saving smokers’ lives is more worthy and achievable than simply breaking the chain of tobacco addiction.