This week the respected CBS documentary news show “60 Minutes” included a feature on smokeless tobacco, focusing on the recent launch of snus in the United States. The show was relatively balanced in focusing on the main potential risks and benefits of snus.
It started by featuring a young man who enjoys using snus in places where he cannot smoke, while continuing with a pack-a-day smoking addiction. The interviewer gave him the bad news: “You are a dual user.”
It then had a segment with the widely respected Swedish nicotine addiction expert, Dr Karl Fagerstrom, who stated that snus is 90-99% less harmful than smoking (while admitting some risks, including of pancreatic cancer).
A tobacco control advocate in Indiana expressed concerns about many tobacco users becoming dual users, and also mentioned the concern that children may become addicted to these products. She was particularly concerned that some of the new dissolvable tobacco products look like candy and appear to be designed with kids in mind.
The counterpoint was an interview with a Swedish TV presenter whose mother died of lung cancer, and who himself had been an addicted smoker. He was only able to quit smoking by switching to snus.
The show did not give much explanation about why Swedish snus contains fewer toxins than traditional American smokeless tobacco, and the claims about nicotine delivery of the new dissolvable products may be inaccurate. But it presented the main issues in an interesting and informative manner.
Overall, I suspect this show may be relatively good publicity for snus. The tobacco companies are not allowed to tell the public that snus is much less harmful than cigarettes (its primary benefit), and this show got that information into the public domain. The companies have also been trying hard to draw a distinction between traditional “spit tobacco” and this new more discrete “spitless” form of smokeless tobacco. Again, the show got that message across fairly clearly, without playing down the main potential problem — dual use, addiction, and use by youth.
The full section on smokeless tobacco that was shown this evening can be viewed online here.
Note also that 3 additional “extra” segments that were not shown on TV can also be viewed at the CBS “60 Minutes” site. Two of these include interviews with an Indiana University medical professor, Dr Stephen Jay, on use of smokeless tobacco for smoking cessation. The other addresses the same topic with Dr Karl Fagerstrom.
I’d be interested to read your comments on the show and other excerpts from the CBS website.