by Carl V Phillips
Not lies today, quite. But unforgivable ignorance from those who presume to write about THR. CNBC “reports” (which is to say, runs a free advertisement for Swedish Match; not to suggest that is a bad thing — and indeed, good for them for getting the story — but it is just so blatant it seems a bit embarrassing):
Big tobacco may be scrambling to grab a hold of the e-cigarettes market, but there’s a little-known 700-year old tobacco product from Europe that’s also seen as having big potential.
Snus (pronounced “snoose”) is similar to U.S.-style dipping tobacco. It’s a derivate of snuff with the history records showing its use dating back to the late 1400s. It’s placed inside the upper lip and is either sold loose in tins or in tiny tea bag-style pouches.
Seen as having big potential compared to e-cigarettes? Even restricting to an inaccurate narrow definition of what snoose means, it has been reasonably popular and constantly discussed for decades, and still outsells e-cigarettes by a lot. Note to authors: just because you personally only recently learned about something does not mean that it is news.
I trust I do not have to explain that “snus” is just the Swedish language word for snuff (aka dip, oral snuff, moist snuff), and so does not define a subcategory of smokeless tobacco, though it is also used as marketing term for ST products outside Sweden that the manufacturer wants to declare to be Swedish-style. The author’s failure to understand this results in the later statistics in the article being garbage: Swedish Match’s share of the U.S. “snus” market is fairly meaningless when you have no idea what the author thinks constitutes the market. I would guess it refers to all the products whose manufacturer happens to put “snus” on the label. But that is kind of like looking at someone’s market share for “protein bars” by looking only at products with that phrase in their labeling, ignoring all the various “energy bars”, “nutrition bars”, etc. that are the same category.
The saving grace of the article, for me anyway, was the snarky first sentence. I can imagine that Swedish Match and the other ST manufacturers who are not in the cigarette business get pretty annoyed at the rhetoric coming from some e-cigarette advocates that suggests e-cigarettes are better than ST because ST is part of “big evil tobacco” while e-cigarettes are independent. So you can hardly blame them for sniping back. What many e-cigarette advocates do not seem to realize is that ST (in Sweden, the USA, and elsewhere) was popular long before cigarettes and until fairly recently was dominated by manufacturers who were not in the cigarette business, though that changed with acquisitions and expansions of cigarette brands into smokeless. (Sound familiar?) While I am not going to go look up the numbers, it may already be that a larger portion of e-cigarettes sales than ST sales come from companies that also make cigarettes (and if not, it will probably be the case in a year).
My attention was called to that CNBC article by an e-cigarette blogger posting a note asking if anyone had written about snus before. Really. I am not trying to give this individual a hard time, because s/he is merely one example of a remarkable ignorance among the e-cigarette literati about where THR came from and why we can be confident it really works (and I want to make sure that individual gets credit for learning about it and writing something, though for obvious reasons I am pretty sure s/he does not read this blog and so will never see that).
Less forgivable still are supposed scientific experts who have embraced e-cigarette based THR without ever repenting for — or even correcting — their history of lies about ST. The worst — but by no means only — of these is NJOY’s Richard Carmona, whose lies about ST when he was Surgeon General of the United States may have killed more people than any other single anti-THR liar. He gets paid to tout e-cigarettes now, without ever having corrected or showed remorse for those lies.
All current THR products are great for public health, but no current product is a public health miracle. ST proved that THR works, both in terms of reducing the health risks and having a large impact in at least one population. E-cigarettes have proved that there was pent-up demand for THR in other populations, and that new products could serve some of that demand. But despite optimism from a year or two ago, it seems unlikely that the current version of e-cigarettes will make a much greater a dent in smoking than ST does. Sure, if the market were frozen now, both would continue to replace smoking and provide more public health benefits than the tobacco control industry could dream of providing. But new products are needed — and fortunately are in development.
Each new low-risk product should be embraced for what it is (and understood for what it is not — e.g., if it is not quite as low risk as ST). Inevitably, some companies and going to try to market their THR products at the expense of other THR products (and I am not just talking about pharma), and some bloggers are going to focus on the product aficionado niche. But these represent a lack of genuine support for THR itself, and potentially harm the cause. What’s say we all try to push back against this THR-vs-THR balkanization.
[Update: Related to this, here is a presumably planted article touting PMI’s pending new THR products. Notice, to their credit, that they do not suggest anything is wrong with the other THR products but merely note that they do not appeal to everyone. I should also clarify that the Swedish Match planted article also did not denigrate e-cigarettes (except for that “big tobacco” reference). This is the right path for us all to follow.]