A Ministry of Health-commissioned review of the health effects of Swedish snus aims to inform the debate about whether snus and similar products have a role in reducing tobacco related harm in New Zealand.
The review, carried out by New Zealand Health Technology Assessment, a research unit of the University of Otago, provides an independent assessment of international studies on modified smokeless tobacco products.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield, Chief Advisor Public Health, says the systematic review looked at the best quality research studies, which all evaluated snus, a form of oral moist Swedish snuff. The tobacco in snus is modified so that it is low in nitrosamines, the cancer causing agents found in tobacco products.
"There is much debate in the tobacco control community in New Zealand and internationally on the place of modified smokeless tobacco products such as snus. Those on either side of the debate tend to cite research that supports their position. This review provides an independent assessment that will inform what we do from here."
The review confirms that snus carries a considerably lower risk of harm than smoked tobacco, but that there are still many unanswered questions about its long term safety and the role it might play - if any - in reducing smoking.
Dr Bloomfield says it's important to ensure that New Zealand has a comprehensive tobacco control programme, including legislation, and continues to keep up with international best practice. Strengthening effective smoking cessation services is a key priority to ensure that smokers are prompted and supported to quit.
"Most experts agree that complete cessation is the best outcome for smokers. All parties agree that promoting snus for harm reduction should not be at the expense of diverting significant resources away from the public health goal of eliminating tobacco use."
The Ministry of Health is not reviewing the legal status of modified smokeless tobacco products and does not plan to in the near future. These products can currently be imported for personal use, but are subject to excise tax and their distribution, sale and promotion within New Zealand are prohibited.
To view the full report please go to http://nzhta.chmeds.ac.nz/publications/smokeless_tobacco.pdf