snus tobacco
A woman prepares to take a portions of snus SVEN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images

Norwegian people using snus – an orally taken snuff tobacco – now outnumber smokers for the first time in history. Snus is healthier than cigarettes, yet it remains banned by the EU.

New government figures show that in 2017 some 11% of the adult population in Norway were daily smokers, while 12% used snus every day. The gap was more pronounced among the younger population.

Snus is a moist tobacco powder originating in Scandinavia and still popular in Sweden – which enjoys an exemption from the EU law prohibiting its manufacture and sale, and Norway – which is not an EU member state.

Users place a pinch or a small teabag-like pouch of snus under their lips and allow the mouth's saliva to absorb the nicotine from the product.

It differs from chewing tobacco, which, as the name suggests, has to be chewed.

In fact, Snus has more in common with dipping tobacco, popular in the southern US states, which is also placed under the lip. However, "dip" produces excess saliva requiring the user to spit regularly, unlike snus.

All of the products are associated with nasal, oral and gastrointestinal cancer, but snus is safer than smoking cigarettes. A 2014 report from Public Health England said: "Smokers who switch from smoked to smokeless tobacco substantially reduce the hazard to their health... smokeless products have great potential as a harm reduction option for smokers."

Yet snus cannot be made and sold anywhere in the EU except for Sweden, which negotiated an exemption to the ruling when it joined the bloc in 1995.

It was outlawed, along with dipping tobacco, three years previously when a US company tried to introduce a dip into the UK. Chewing tobacco and nasal stuff remain legal across the continent.

snus tobacco
Portions of snus SVEN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images
snus tobacco Norway
More people are now using Snus than smoking in Norway Statistics Norway

The ban was introduced after health campaigners understandably protested the arrival of a new, cancer-causing tobacco product. However, evidence has suggested that smokeless tobaccos improve public health when introduced to a population.

Public Health England acknowledged in 2014 that, while snus was "not likely to become a legal or indeed [a] politically viable option in the UK", data from Sweden and Norway showed that it could "contribute to significant reductions in smoking prevalence".