A new study has cast doubt on the proposal to promote smokeless tobacco as a safer alternative to cigarettes.
Previous studies of smokers in Sweden have suggested that many have quit smoking by switching to smokeless tobacco. While not without health risks, smokeless tobacco is less harmful than cigarettes.
"In Sweden, many smokers have quit smoking by switching to snus," the British Medical Journal quoted Shu-Hong Zhu, Ph.D., Professor of Family and Preventive Medicine in the UCSD School of Medicine as saying.
Snus is a form of moist, powdered tobacco that comes in a small sachet and is placed under the lip.
"This has piqued a lot of interest, because anything that helps people quit cigarettes could have huge benefits due to the great harm caused by smoking," Zhu added.
"Historically, there has been no campaign to promote snus to Swedes as a safer alternative to cigarettes," said Hans Gilljam, M.D. a Professor at the Karolinska Institute and a study author.
"But snus has been popular among male smokers, and has helped them quit cigarettes. In fact, Swedish men have a higher smoking cessation rate than Swedish women, few of whom use snus," Gilljam added.
However, public health officials say that smokeless tobacco should not be promoted so fast.
The researchers looked for a similar effect among the U.S. smokers. While, U.S. men are much more likely than women to use smokeless tobacco but it does not boost their rate of quitting smoking.
"With an ongoing tobacco control effort, men in the U.S. seem to be quitting smoking at higher rates than men in Sweden. And U.S. women are quitting at the same rate, unlike their counterparts in Sweden," Zhu said.
The current study examined data from the Tobacco Use Supplement to the Current Population Survey, 2002, with one-year follow-up in 2003.
The results showed both male and female smokers in the U.S. appear to have higher quit rates for smoking than their Swedish counterparts, despite greater use of smokeless tobacco in Sweden.