Tobacco in a teabag

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: February 18th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

As more and more cities ban smoking in public, cigarette sales are finally starting to fall. So what are the tobacco companies doing in response? They’ve started developing a new smokeless tobacco product that is virtually undetectable, and that has public health advocates worried.

Called snus [SNOOSE—rhymes with LOOSE], the tobacco comes encased in a teabag-like pouch that is placed between the lip and gum for a hit of nicotine. Unlike regular smokeless tobacco, there’s no spitting involved. Snus is Swedish for tobacco and the product was originally created in Sweden.

Camel introduced snus in Austin, Texas, in 2006 and is planning to sell it nationwide soon. Other tobacco companies are still in the development stage.

So far, doctors are divided. On the one hand, snus eliminates having to inhale tobacco, decreasing the risk for heart attack and lung cancer. But on the other, snus has not yet been tested, so the potential for harmful effects is unknown. And the product, with its colorful packaging and flavors such as frost and spice, could be appealing to children. In fact, some researchers fear that children could use snus without being detected by oblivious parents or teachers.

Snus is just the beginning of a whole new wave of tobacco-related products. R.J. Reynolds is experimenting with dissolvable tobacco mouth strips, orbs and sticks that it will begin distributing in U-S cities next year.

Only time will tell if these products are really safe… or just the next bad habit in a box.