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Cancer Experts Back Return of Tobacco 'Teabags,' by Alan MacDermid

June 28, 2004

TWELVE years after it was banned in Europe, the so-called tobacco teabag is ready to make a comeback with the blessing of anti-smoking campaigners and cancer experts.

The European Court of Justice has been asked by two manufacturers of snus – a tobacco powder popular in Sweden – to have the EU ban rescinded.

It is regarded as healthier than products such as Skoal Bandits – run out of town in 1990, after its US manufacturer had set up a factory in East Kilbride with controversial funding aid.

With only a fraction of the carcinogens present in many brands originating in North America, and few of the problems associated with cigarettes, snus – which is placed under the upper lip – is being seen as a credible harm-reduction measure that could save 200,000 lives in Europe every year.

It is cured, manufactured and stored in a way which leaves lower concentrations of many of the harmful chemicals associated with other oral tobacco, although it may cause a slight increase in cardiovascular risk and is likely to be harmful to the unborn foetus. The EU is obliged to review the ban by the end of this year, and an international group of anti-smoking experts including Clive Bates, director of anti-smoking group Ash, and Professor Martin Jarvis, of Cancer Research UK's behavioural psychology unit, supports replacing the ban with a regulation of the toxicity levels of all smokeless tobacco products.

About 20% of Swedish men use snus and 19% smoke, the total equating to the proportion who smoke throughout the EU. The claim about the potential of snus to reduce the 500,000 deaths in the (then) 15 states of the EU by 40% is contained in a report in the European Journal of Epidemiology produced by researchers from Alabama University (sic). Among these would be 10,694 lives saved in the UK.

The authors acknowledge sponsorship by the US Smokeless Tobacco Company, which is trying to introduce its own snus products into the European market, but their report reinforces a view already held by health experts.

A spokesman for Ash said yesterday: "The ban on the Swedish type of smokeless tobacco product is the one we are keen to see lifted. "Snus isn't completely risk-free, but it takes us into the area of nicotine replacement."