Snus tobacco has an overall positive effect on public health, a new study has found. Researchers at the Norwegian Institute of Alcohol and Drug Policy have determined that the smokefree tobacco product is associated with a net reduction in tobacco-related mortality. Although the product itself cannot be considered harmless, its market presence appears to curb cigarette use and boost cessation attempts.

The study examined how cigarette use is affected by the availability of snus — a low nitrosamine, smokeless tobacco product similar to dipping tobacco. Study author Karl Erik Lund said that although the product’s Norwegian market share has increased from five percent to 30 percent since 1985, the overall consumption of tobacco has remained the same.

"The use of snus has not increased overall tobacco consumption but has reduced cigarette smoking in Norway, and this has happened without more people becoming new users," he said, speaking to The Local. "If the aim is to reduce tobacco-related mortality, letting snus compete with cigarettes is a good idea."

That said, the tobacco product itself should not be perceived as a healthy or harmless alternative. In the past, numerous studies have indicated a link between snus use and an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. While some researchers have pointed to a similar link between snus and oral cancer, the product’s carcinogenic capacity remains subject to scientific debate. Still, the product carries a health warning, and remains banned in 26 European Union nations.

"It’s very important to stress that snus is not a totally risk-free product. There’s no reason why youth should take up snus if they’re not trying to get out of the very dangerous cigarette smoking habit," Lund explained.

Instead, the product appears to lower tobacco consumption and the concomitant mortality by facilitating cessation attempts. Like e-cigarettes, it offers an alternative that is not only less harmful, but also associated with more infrequent use. Notwithstanding their purported health risks, both products may ultimately benefit public health by diversifying tobacco use.

“The aim should be to combat mortality, and there both snus and electronic cigarettes can play an important role," Lund told reporters.

Sources: Lund KE. Tobacco harm reduction in the real world: has the availability of snus in Norway increased smoking cessation? Drugs and Alcohol Today. 2013.

Roosaar A, Johansson A, Sandborgh-Englund G, Axell T, Nyrén O. Cancer and mortality among users and nonusers of snus. International Journal of Cancer. 2008.