An end to smokeless tobacco?

Singapore – It has long been available here as an alternative to cigarettes. But could there soon be tighter restrictions, or even an end, to snus?

Snus is a moist powder tobacco product, consumed by placing it under the lip for a period of time.

While it is not as common here as in the United States, Scandinavia and other parts of Asia, at least one online seller has seen increased orders of snus from Singapore.

But amendments to the law governing smoking and tobacco – to be introduced in Parliament today – could change that.

In his blog early this month, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan noted how tobacco companies are offering a range of smokeless alternatives, including strips, lozenges and snus as well as nicotine candies, which he cautioned could cause children to become life-long addicts.

He said he would amend the law “to arm ourselves for the era of these new tobacco products”.

According to one website that sells Swedish snus, there have been more orders from Singapore over time, in line with the company’s overall growth in sales, said its general manager Fredrik Soder.

While less than 1 per cent of its 130,000 customers are from Singapore, “we do have more customers from Singapore than I’d have thought”, said Mr Soder. The website gets orders from Singapore almost daily.

Most customers seem to be British or other English-speaking expatriates, he said.

Another online seller, Dr Anowar Hossain, said he sells snus to Swedes living here. “I think the people of Singapore are not familiar with Swedish smokeless tobacco,” he said.

Locally, snus is sold predominantly in Little India for about $2 a packet. The main customers are foreign workers, shopkeepers told MediaCorp.

Provision shop manager Singarenn Subiamanyam said: “The Indian foreign workers tend to buy it because they also have it in back in India.”

The shops sell an average of only 10 packets a day, and with such a small sales volume, shop owners are not worried about a potential sales restriction.

Shop owner Krishna Bheemireddy said: “It won’t have a lot of impact on business because the locals don’t buy it.”

So far, the Health Sciences Authority has not come across any imports or sales of alternative tobacco products, such as candy, strips and gel, which are not prohibited at present, it told MediaCorp.

Checks with smoking cessation centres also showed minimal use of such products by their clients. Guardian Health and Beauty, which reached out to more than 1,200 individuals in the first quarter of this year, has not encountered any smokeless tobacco users during its counselling sessions.

Nonetheless, nearly nine in 10 respondents to the public consultation last year for the proposed amendments to the Smoking (Control of Advertisement and Sale of Tobacco) Act agreed that alternative forms of tobacco products are “of great public health concern”.

Meanwhile, some tobacco importers and manufacturers had suggested developing guidelines to define these products.

In response, the Health Promotion Board said snus may lead to rise in nicotine addiction, “as well as a dual use of tobacco products – which means smoking as well as using smokeless tobacco products”.

“The latter is a serious concern with regards to tobacco cessation,” the spokesperson said, adding that a recent study in Sweden found that people who use both snus and cigarettes have two to five times the chance of going through withdrawal symptoms as those who have used only one type of tobacco.


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