By Chimwemwe Ngoma and Vitta Mithi
Smoking rates continue to rise in Africa and its low income countries such as Malawi while in the rest of the world they are falling[i]. Accessibility and affordability of Safer Nicotine Products such as electronic cigarettes remain a challenge in the continent. Do economically and culturally acceptable Safer Nicotine Products have potential to drop smoking rates in Africa? Snus availability in Sweden appears to have contributed to the unusually low rates of smoking among Swedish men by helping them transfer to a notably less harmful form of nicotine dependence[ii]. Can Africa borrow a leaf from the Swedish snus?
Snus is the name given to the form of smokeless snuff tobacco commonly used in Sweden. Snus is a moist to semi-moist smokeless tobacco product, made from ground tobacco leaves and food-approved additives. Because the tobacco is ground into a powder instead of being cut, the final product is intended to be placed in the mouth, rather than chewed. The product is usually packaged in pouches like tea bags.
The production of snus involves heating of grounded tobacco; this greatly reduces the microbial activity in the final product. Furthermore, the pasteurization process removes chemical toxins and adds value to its nature and shelf-life. Henceforth, snus lowers the risks of developing smoking caused diseases.
There is no smoke inhalation, so there is no risk of respiratory disease which accounts for nearly half of all smoking-related deaths. The snus is not chewed rather it is put between the gum and upper or lower lip.
Furthermore, there is no significant association with premature mortality, disabilities, oral cancers, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases? The EU Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks in 2008 reported several conclusions about the health effects of smokeless tobacco products (STP) and Snus. It found that there is consistent evidence that use of STP does not causes respiratory diseases or that complete substitution of STP for tobacco smoking would ultimately prevent nearly all deaths from respiratory disease currently caused by smoking, and reduce the cardiovascular mortality that currently arises from smoking by at least 50 percent[iii].
Snus also helps to reduce or quit smoking. Harm reduction products such as snus provides a choice for smokers or consumers who wish to continue to enjoy nicotine without the risks inhaling smoke from combustible tobacco cigarettes, or who are seeking for a more suitable way to quit smoking. With snus, quitting smoking can be pleasurable, rather than burdensome.
Snus is cheap, affordable and long-lasting. Malawi’s 50.7 percent of the population are still living under the poverty line (below $1 a day). [iv] For a country with a larger population living below the poverty line, a SNP that is cheap and that can be produced locally would be ideal.
[iii] Harry Shapiro (2018) No Fire, No Smoke: The Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction 2018. London: Knowledge-Action-Change
[iv] Malawi Government: The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) III; Building a Productive, Competitive and Resilient Nation 16th August 2017.