Is there a safe way to consume tobacco?

24 September 2013

Question

Is snus a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes?

Answer

Hannah - So, what are the relative harms of nicotine containing products? Are patches more dangerous than e-cigarettes? Is snus safer than smoking? We crack into the data with Professor Nutt. David N. - Hello. My name is David Nutt. I'm a Psychopharmacologist from Imperial College in London and I'm also Chair of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. We've recently done quite a detailed analysis of the relative harms of different nicotine and tobacco containing products. We use this new technique of multi-criteria decision analysis. This is our analysis to try to understand relative harms of drugs and to make more rational, sensible decisions throughout what we do with drugs including tobacco.

Hannah - Well, he's perfectly placed to provide the answer to this Question of the Week then!

David N. - Some people often say that snus as it's known in Sweden and it is popular in Sweden, is that safer than cigarettes. Recent data suggests that snus is about 20 times safer than cigarettes. There are many reasons to this. The first is, it's actually especially prepared form of tobacco that has taken out most of the carcinogens that are added to tobacco and cigarettes to make them smoke better. The second, it that smoke does not get into the lungs or carbon monoxide that damages the heart.

Hannah - So, snus is considerably safer than smoking cigarettes, but what about electronic cigarettes which vaporise nicotine and deliver it to the lungs?

David N. - So, these also look to be very much safer than conventional cigarettes and possibly, even safer than snus itself.

Hannah - And what about the passive risk of e-cigarettes for those around the smoker?

David N. - The current situation with e-cigarettes is that we think they have a much lower propensity to affect other people as well as for the user. They haven't been extensively studied, but you certainly don't get the contamination of the air, the carcinogens that you get from smoked cigarettes. Whether there's enough nicotine floating around to actually cause a degree of pharmacological action on, people in the vicinity is not yet known. I'll be surprised if they have anything like this bigger problem as what passive smoking is to current cigarettes.

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