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EU Panel Says Oral Tobacco Is Addictive, Hazardous

(Update2) – By Thomas Mulier

Feb. 19 (Bloomberg) — Swedish-style snuff hasn’t been proven to help people quit smoking, a European Union panel said, dealing a blow to tobacco companies that lobbied for lifting a ban on the product.

Smokeless tobacco is addictive and hazardous to health, the committee said in a report on its Web site. Evidence that the snuff, known as snus, may help Swedish smokers stop isn’t sufficient to lift an EU ban because it’s “not possible to extrapolate the patterns of tobacco use” to other countries, the committee said.

Snus is a moist form of snuff that is placed between the upper lip and gums rather than sniffed. The tobacco industry, led by British American Tobacco Plc and Swedish Match AB, has been lobbying the EU to lift the ban, which applies to all members of the bloc except Sweden. Cigarette makers have been moving into smokeless tobacco products, trying to create a new market as public smoking restrictions spread through the U.S. and Europe.

“This conclusion implies that there will be no impetus for a change in policy for a lifting of the ban,” wrote David Hayes, an analyst at Lehman Brothers who has an “overweight” rating on Swedish Match.

The EU banned snus for health reasons before Sweden joined. The country negotiated an exception to the rule when it became a member, becoming the only EU nation where the product can be sold legally.

Shares Fall

Swedish Match shares fell 4 kronor, or 2.8 percent, to 138 kronor in Stockholm, where the company is based. That gives the company a market value of about 36.8 billion kronor ($5.84 billion). London-based BAT declined 19 pence to 1,825 pence in London.

Studies show that all smokeless tobacco products contain carcinogens and may cause cancer of the pancreas, the committee said. Research indicates some kinds of oral tobacco are associated with a “high” risk for mouth cancer, though it hasn’t been proven for snus, the panel added. Smokeless tobacco also may increase the risk of death after a heart attack, the committee said.

Snus is at least 50 percent less likely to lead to heart disease than cigarettes, and possibly 100 percent less likely to lead to lung cancer, the committee said.

“Politicians must now decide on whether it is reasonable to continue to deny European smokers access to a dramatically less hazardous alternative to cigarettes,” Lars Rutqvist, vice president for scientific affairs at Swedish Match, said in a statement. “This is probably only the first step in a long political process.”

Benefits, Risk

The benefits of lifting a ban would be offset by the risk that consumers who might never have smoked would start using snus, or that consumers who quit smoking for the product would continue using it indefinitely, the panel said.

Some evidence from the U.S. suggests that smokeless tobacco use may lead to cigarette smoking, while Swedish data don’t support this conclusion, the report said. Cultural differences “suggest caution in translating findings across countries” and there are no randomized trials on smokeless tobacco as a cigarette substitute.

“We will continue to engage with the European Commission — encouraging them and others to support the replacement of the current ban with a regulatory framework that allows the sale of snus,” Chris Proctor, BAT’s head of science and regulation, said in a statement. The Brussels-based commission is the EU’s executive.

To contact the reporter on this story: Thomas Mulier in Geneva at tmulier@bloomberg.net .

Last Updated: February 19, 2008 11:46 EST

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