Smokeless Tobacco: No Chewing, No Spitting, and Fewer Cancer-Causing Chemicals?

"Part of the problem in the U.S. is that we have almost no control over what the tobacco industry does in terms of how they market these products and what they put in them. Nobody would even know. The regulatory vacuum in the U.S. is part of the problem," Foulds said.

A reduced mouth cancer risk does not erase all other health risks. Smokeless tobacco products are bad for oral health in general, because they can erode gums and cause lesions in the mouth, Foulds said. It is just as bad for pregnant women as smoking.

Can It Help Smokers Kick the Habit?

While it doesn't deliver quite as much nicotine as a cigarette, in the long run, smokeless tobacco appears to be just as addictive as cigarettes and can be just as hard to quit.

However, a lot of people in Sweden have used smokeless tobacco -- they call it snus -- to help then stop smoking, studies show. First-time tobacco users, especially young people, who start with smokeless tobacco usually don't end up smoking. If they already smoke, they're more likely to quit with the help of smokeless pouches.

In fact, Sweden has one of the lowest percentages of smokers in Europe.

So, perhaps Americans, too, can use smokeless tobacco pouches as a tool to quit smoking, Rodu said.

Foulds has a similar viewpoint.

"My angle is that two companies who have in the recent decades sold the most lethal products known to man -- cigarettes -- have moved to a product that is less harmful."

However, Tabithia Engle, executive director of the Tobacco Free Coalition of Oregon, said that smokeless tobacco pouches were not a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes because the surgeon general determined a long time ago that it caused oral cancer and could kill people. It is also as addictive as smoking, she says.

Though anti-tobacco groups like Engle's organization are pushing for reform, smokeless tobacco products are not subject to federal regulation, and Congress has never granted the Food and Drug Administration specific jurisdiction over the regulation of tobacco products.

However, Engle's group fears that informing the public about the less-harmful smokeless pouch will encourage young people to pick up the habit. Rodu disagrees.

"I don't think this is an invitation to use tobacco at all. It's very much the same as any other harm reduction approach," he said.

"For example, condoms are not an invitation for people to engage in sexual activity. These are measures to increase safety for people who choose to do so. I don't believe that the proper provision of information about safer tobacco products is an invitation to use tobacco."

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