Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Is Snus Bad For You?

Also Known As: Swedish snus, smokeless tobacco



Short answer

The risks of using snus include addiction due to its nicotine content, which can lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms, and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, and various forms of cancer. While snus may have less lung disease risk compared to smoking, it still carries significant health risks including oral health concerns, and its safety compared to other tobacco products is not fully determined.



Long answer

Nicotine Content and Addiction Potential of Snus

Nicotine is a stimulant found naturally in the tobacco plant. It is the primary addictive substance in snus and other tobacco products. Snus, a moist powder tobacco product originating from a variant of dry snuff in the early 18th-century Sweden, is placed under the upper lip for extended periods. The nicotine content in snus varies among brands and formulations, but it generally ranges from 8 milligrams to a potent 43 milligrams of nicotine per gram of tobacco.

Understanding the addiction potential of snus requires a look at how nicotine works. Once inserted under the lip, the nicotine in snus is absorbed through the mucous membranes and enters the bloodstream. Nicotine stimulates the release of adrenaline and dopamine, neurotransmitters that play a role in the 'reward' circuit of the brain. Dopamine release is associated with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, which can reinforce the act of using snus and make it habit-forming.

The potential for addiction to snus is significant due to several factors:

  • High Nicotine Levels: Some brands of snus contain high levels of nicotine which can increase dependence.
  • Efficient Delivery System: The sublingual absorption of nicotine from snus is efficient and rapid, leading to a quick onset of effects, which can contribute to its addictive potential.
  • Continuous Use: Users often keep snus in place for extended periods, resulting in prolonged nicotine exposure, which can enhance dependence.
  • Convenience: The discreet nature of snus use (as it doesn’t require spitting and doesn’t produce smoke) may lead to more frequent use, increasing the risk of becoming addicted.

Research on snus addiction indicates that individuals who use snus can develop nicotine dependence, just as with cigarettes and other tobacco products. A study in the "Nicotine & Tobacco Research" journal indicated that individuals using snus were less likely to quit nicotine use compared to non-users, implying a substantial addictive potential.

It is important for users to consider the implications of snus's nicotine content:

  • Short-term Effects: Nicotine can cause an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and adrenaline levels, leading to heightened alertness and a temporary sense of well-being. However, it can also lead to withdrawal symptoms once the nicotine effects wear off, prompting repeated use.
  • Long-term Effects: Long-term use can alter brain chemistry, making it difficult to quit due to withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, depression, and weight gain.
  • Health Risks: Apart from addiction, nicotine can pose several health risks, including contributing to the development of cardiovascular diseases, reproductive health issues, and various forms of cancer.

While snus is sometimes marketed as a “smokeless” and “less harmful” alternative to smoking, its potential for addiction can't be underestimated. Those considering using snus or those who are already using it should be aware of its addictive properties and the related health implications.

Oral Health Concerns Associated with Snus Use

The use of snus, a type of smokeless tobacco product, has been linked to various oral health issues. While its use may have certain perceived benefits over traditional smoking, particularly in reducing the risk of lung cancer, it's important to examine the impact it can have on the mouth and its structures.

Gum Disease and Recession: Studies have indicated that snus users may be at an increased risk for gum disease (gingivitis and periodontitis). The direct contact of snus with the gums can cause irritation and recession. The Journal of the American Dental Association published a study indicating that prolonged snus use could lead to chronic gum inflammation.

Teeth Staining and Discoloration: Like other tobacco products, snus contains substances that can lead to the staining of teeth. Nicotine and other compounds in snus can cause a yellow or brown discoloration over time, which might affect the aesthetic appearance of one's smile.

Increased Risk of Caries: The sugar content in some snus products, which is added for flavor, can contribute to an increased risk of dental caries (tooth decay). The bacteria in the mouth thrive on this sugar, creating acids that attack the enamel of teeth.

Oral Cancer: Perhaps the most serious concern is the link between snus use and oral cancer. While some research suggests that the risk of cancer associated with snus might be lower than with smoking or using other smokeless tobacco products, there is still a significant cause for concern. A study from the International Journal of Cancer suggests a possible association between snus use and pancreatic cancer, indicating that the potential carcinogenic effects of snus may extend beyond the oral cavity.

  • Inflammation of the oral soft tissues
  • Alterations to the oral microbiome
  • Increased risk for leukoplakia (white patches in the mouth that can be precancerous)
  • Changes in the pH of the saliva, potentially leading to dental erosion

Noticeable Lesions: Snus packets placed against the gingiva can cause localized lesions in the mouth where the product is held. Such lesions can range from benign keratoses to more worrying changes that could require further medical evaluation.

Overall, while some snus users believe this form of tobacco to be “safer,” it's clear that it's not without its own oral health risks. Awareness and understanding of these risks can help individuals make informed choices about their tobacco use.

Snus and Its Link to Cancer Risks

Snus, a type of smokeless tobacco product that is placed under the upper lip, has been a subject of concern regarding its link to cancer risks. The potential carcinogenic effects of snus are a major area of research within oncology and public health circles.

One of the key concerns lies in the presence of tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), which are known to be potent carcinogens. TSNAs are formed during the curing and processing of tobacco, and snus, like other tobacco products, contains these chemicals. A study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention has shown associations between the use of snus and an elevated risk of pancreatic cancer.

Additionally, research published in the International Journal of Cancer indicates that snus users may also have a marginally increased risk of other cancers, including those of the esophagus and stomach, although these findings are less definitive. It is noteworthy that while some studies suggest possible increased risks, the overall evidence is often considered less substantial than the risks associated with combustible tobacco products such as cigarettes.

Oral cancer has traditionally been a concern with smokeless tobacco products. Unlike other forms of smokeless tobacco, snus is pasteurized rather than fermented, and some claim that this process potentially reduces the quantities of carcinogens. However, although the oral cancer risk for snus users has been suggested to be lower compared to users of other smokeless tobaccos,

it is important to note that no form of tobacco use is considered safe, and snus is no exception.

Some proponents point to the "Swedish Experience," where snus is widely used in place of cigarettes, resulting in lower incidences of lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases. However, it is critical to view these population-level outcomes with caution, as they cannot be directly attributed to snus use without considering other public health measures and behavioral factors that contribute to disease prevalence.

In terms of nicotine exposure, while snus users do absorb nicotine, which is an addictive chemical, it also raises concerns about cardiovascular diseases. Yet, current studies do not unanimously link snus use with an increased risk of heart disease or stroke, a major contrast from the well-documented risks associated with smoking.

It's important for users and healthcare providers to balance the debate around snus with a thorough understanding of personal and public health risks. While snus may present particular health concerns distinct from other tobacco products, individuals should consider these specifics within the broader context of tobacco-associated risks. Professional medical advice should always be sought when evaluating the risks of tobacco use, including consumption of products like snus.

Finally, while there are ongoing debates and studies regarding the carcinogenic potential of snus, public health recommendations continue to advocate for tobacco-free lifestyles as the optimal choice for reducing cancer risks.

Impact on Cardiovascular Health from Snus

Snus, a smokeless tobacco product originating from Sweden, has been a subject of health concern, particularly in regard to cardiovascular health. Snus is placed between the gum and lip, allowing nicotine to be absorbed through the mucous membranes. Unlike combustible smoking products, snus does not involve inhalation of smoke. However, the nicotine and other compounds in snus may still have significant impacts on the cardiovascular system.

Nicotine and Blood Pressure: Nicotine is a well-known stimulant that can temporarily increase heart rate and blood pressure. A study published in the Journal of Hypertension found that the use of snus can lead to acute short-term increases in blood pressure and heart rate. Chronic use could potentially contribute to long-term hypertension, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Effect on Blood Lipids and Atherosclerosis: There is evidence that snus use can affect the levels of blood lipids, such as cholesterol and triglycerides. According to a research article in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, snus users were found to have slightly higher levels of LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) compared to non-users. This dyslipidemia could accelerate the process of atherosclerosis, where arteries become clogged with fatty substances, possibly leading to heart attacks and strokes.

Impacts on Heart Disease Risk: Studies have presented mixed results regarding snus and the risk of developing heart disease. For instance, a cohort study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggested that while cigarette smoking substantially increases the risk of heart disease, the use of snus is not associated with a similar level of risk. Nonetheless, no form of tobacco is considered entirely safe, and even snus may pose some level of increased risk for heart-related complications.

Risks Associated with Circulatory Problems: Nicotine's vasoconstriction effects, which narrow blood vessels, can lead to reduced blood flow and oxygen to tissues. Over time, this can contribute to peripheral vascular diseases. Snus users should be aware of these potential circulatory issues, especially if they have pre-existing conditions that could be exacerbated by vasoconstriction.

Inflammation and Cardiac Events: The presence of nicotine and other components in snus could also lead to an inflammatory response in the body. Chronic inflammation is associated with an increased risk of cardiac events. Swedish research indicated that snus users might have elevated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation, which could signify a higher risk for cardiovascular diseases.

While the evidence does not uniformly categorize snus as being as harmful as cigarette smoking for cardiovascular health, it does indicate that there are potential cardiovascular risks associated with its use. It's essential for individuals to be informed of these risks, especially if they have a personal or family history of heart disease. Quitting snus, like quitting other forms of tobacco, can lead to improved cardiovascular health outcomes over time.

Users of snus and healthcare providers should engage in open dialogues about the cardiovascular effects of snus and consider the risks when making personal health decisions. Moderation, cessation, and continuous research into its health impacts are crucial components in understanding and mitigating the cardiovascular risks associated with snus consumption.

Comparing Snus to Other Tobacco Products

When evaluating the health implications of snus, a type of smokeless tobacco, it's essential to compare it to other tobacco products to gauge its relative risks and effects. Smokeless tobacco products like snus are often marketed as safer alternatives to cigarettes, but it is crucial to scrutinize these claims through scientific evidence.

Snus is a moist powder tobacco product that originated in Sweden and is typically placed under the upper lip for extended periods. Unlike many other smokeless tobacco products, snus is steam-pasteurized rather than fermented, which may impact the presence of tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), carcinogenic compounds found in tobacco. Let's examine how snus measures up to other forms of tobacco:

  • Cigarettes: Cigarettes are the most well-known tobacco product and are associated with lung cancer, heart disease, and many other health risks. The combustion of tobacco in cigarettes releases thousands of chemicals, many of which are toxic or carcinogenic. In contrast, snus does not involve combustion and is not inhaled, which may reduce the risk of lung diseases. However, snus use is still associated with increased risks of other cancers, particularly pancreatic cancer, and potentially cardiovascular disease.
  • Chewing Tobacco: Similar to snus, chewing tobacco is a smokeless tobacco product. However, chewing tobacco typically undergoes a fermentation process, leading to higher levels of TSNAs than those found in snus. There is evidence suggesting that the risk of certain mouth cancers may be higher with chewing tobacco compared to snus due to this difference in production.
  • Electronic Cigarettes (E-cigarettes): E-cigarettes vaporize a nicotine-containing liquid without tobacco combustion. While e-cigarettes eliminate some of the carcinogens found in traditional cigarettes, they have their own set of potential risks, including the impact of inhaling various chemical compounds and flavorings. The long-term health consequences of e-cigarettes are still being studied, and they have not been without incident, particularly regarding lung injuries associated with certain products.
  • Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT): NRTs, such as patches, gums, and lozenges, are designed to help people quit smoking by providing controlled doses of nicotine without other harmful tobacco compounds. NRTs are generally considered safe and effective when used as directed for smoking cessation but do not carry the same pleasure or ritual associated with traditional tobacco use.

Several studies have offered insights into the comparison between snus and other tobacco products. The British Medical Journal published a study that suggests snus use is less harmful than smoking but not without risk, particularly highlighting an association with oral and pancreatic cancers.

It's vital to stay informed about ongoing research and policy changes. For instance, the European Union, with the exception of Sweden, has banned snus due to health concerns, while in the United States, the FDA's stance on snus is evolving as new evidence emerges.

Ultimately, the reduced harm potential of snus compared to combustible tobacco products does not equate to safety. Users must consider the balance of risks and potential benefits, and recognize that the safest option in terms of tobacco use is abstinence.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, the nicotine found in snus is a stimulant that can cause temporary increases in heart rate and blood pressure. Chronic snus use has the potential to contribute to long-term hypertension, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Snus is pasteurized rather than fermented, which is claimed to potentially reduce the amount of tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), known potent carcinogens. This could suggest a lower oral cancer risk for snus users compared to users of other non-pasteurized smokeless tobaccos. However, no form of tobacco use is considered safe, and all carry some risk of cancer.

While snus does not involve combustion and is not inhaled, reducing the risk of lung diseases compared to traditional smoking, it still carries significant health risks. Snus is associated with increased risks of other cancers, particularly pancreatic, as well as potential cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, while it may lower the risk of lung cancer specifically, it is not a risk-free alternative.

Continuous and prolonged use of snus leads to extended nicotine exposure, which can enhance dependence and make quitting difficult. The longer duration of use can also elevate the user's exposure to harmful compounds, increasing the potential for addiction and the risks associated with oral health, cancer, and cardiovascular problems.

Ask a question about Snus and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • increased heart rate
  • increased blood pressure
  • temporary sense of well-being
  • withdrawal symptoms
  • gum irritation

Possible long-term side effects

  • nicotine dependence
  • changes in brain chemistry
  • increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • gum disease
  • teeth staining
  • dental caries
  • oral lesions
  • potential atherosclerosis
  • increased ldl cholesterol levels
  • inflammatory responses

Possible withdrawal symptoms

  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • weight gain

Ingredients to be aware of

  • nicotine
  • tobacco-specific nitrosamines (tsnas)
  • sugar (in some products)


  • reduced risk of lung cancer compared to smoking

Healthier alternatives

  • nicotine replacement therapy (nrt)
  • quitting tobacco use

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
Published on: 03-20-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
Published on: 03-20-2024

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