March 22, 2019
Snuff vs. Smoking: Which Is Worse?
Ask the Experts

Snuff vs. Smoking: Which Is Worse?

by Berkeley Wellness  

Q: How dangerous is snuff?

A: Unlike cigarettes, snuff does not cause lung cancer, but it does promote mouth and nasal cancers and gum disease, and may, like cigarettes, increase the risk of heart disease and other health problems.

Snuff, which is powdered or ground tobacco, comes dry (for nasal use) or moist (placed in the mouth). Sales of moist snuff have more than doubled in the U.S. in the last 20 years, while cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and dry snuff have become less popular. "No smoking" signs may encourage snuff use. Users are typically young men, including many athletes.

While the chemicals in tobacco smoke are absorbed through the lungs, those in snuff are absorbed through the lining of the nose or mouth and through the intestinal tract. The resulting blood concentrations of nicotine are just as high, and the addictive effect is perhaps even greater.

A related form of moist snuff called snus, popular in Sweden, has been in the news lately because it is being test-marketed in the U.S. by major tobacco companies. (Swedish snus is already sold on the Internet.) The small pouches of tobacco, often flavored, are inserted behind the upper lip; no chewing or spitting is required. Snus contains lower levels of certain carcinogens than other moist snuff, but the levels are still high, and it’s unclear how much safer it is. For instance, studies have linked it to pancreatic and gastrointestinal cancers.

Marketers as well as some anti-smoking experts claim that snuff—especially snus—can help people quit cigarettes. But, more likely, it may get young people hooked on nicotine and serve as a gateway to smoking. There are much safer ways to replace nicotine when quitting smoking, such as nicotine gum and patches.