Brexit should provide the opportunity for the UK to lift the ban on ‘snus’ oral tobacco, MPs on the science and technology committee have said. Snus, a moist powder tobacco product originating from a variant of dry snuff, is inserted under the lip for a long time to give a tobacco hit without users having to light up.
They are currently illegal in the UK under the EU Tobacco Products Directive, although an exception is made in Sweden where it can be produced and sold. Professor Peter Hajek, of Queen Mary University, told the committee that snus’ use in Scandinavia provided useful data on the health impact of nicotine from long-term users of nicotine replacement treatments. “It is not a huge sample, but it is very reassuring.
We have a huge population of data from Sweden and Norway on people who use snus, which is a nicotine containing tobacco product. There is no sign of an increase in cancer that is linked to nicotine,” Professor Hajek said. The then Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote to the MPs setting out the grounds of the Government’s continued support for the ban.
“It is worth noting that there are strongly diverging views in terms of the evidence on the health risks of snus—with significant concerns in Norway and Sweden about the impact of the use of snus, particularly by young people and pregnant women. Where such controversy exists, our view is that a ban constitutes a proportionate response,” Mr Hunt said.
When the MPs subsequently asked the public health minister Steve Brine whether he could see a case for an end to the ban on snus in the UK post-Brexit, he replied: “No—but I have an open mind.” Urgent review Rules around e-cigarettes should be relaxed to help accelerate already declining smoking rates, the committee also said. There should be an urgent review to make it easier for e-cigarettes to be made available on prescription, “wider debate” on vaping in public spaces, and greater freedom for the industry to advertise the devices as a less harmful option for smokers, the MPs concluded in their report on e-cigarettes.
Norman Lamb, chairman of the committee, said: “E-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, but current policy and regulations do not sufficiently reflect this and businesses, transport providers and public places should stop viewing conventional and e-cigarettes as one and the same. “There is no public health rationale for doing so. Concerns that e-cigarettes could be a gateway to conventional smoking, including for young non-smokers, have not materialised.
If used correctly, e-cigarettes could be a key weapon in the NHS stop-smoking arsenal.” Public Health England has estimated that e-cigarettes are at least 95 per cent less harmful than smoking. While “uncertainties” remain about the long-term health impact of the devices, they present “an opportunity to significantly accelerate already declining smoking rates”, the committee said.
George Butterworth, from Cancer Research UK, said: “The Government should carefully consider the report’s recommendations, but any changes to current e-cigarette regulations should be aimed at helping smokers to quit whilst preventing young people from starting to use e-cigarettes.” Around 2.9 million people in the UK are currently using e-cigarettes, with an estimated 470,000 using them as an aid to stop smoking, according to the report. Alison Cook, director of policy at the British Lung Foundation, said the inquiry report “provides clarity on the potential” of the devices. “The choice to switch to e-cigarettes must be made easier,” she said.