The Food and Drug Administration committee voted against the smokeless tobacco companies, in terms of claims the companies made when it came to safety of the smokeless tobacco. The smokeless tobacco, called snus, comes in a cloth baggie, and contains moist tobacco. The company in question, Swedish Match, wanted the warnings removed that say that snus causes tooth loss and decay, as well as gum disease, and mouth cancer. The company wanted the warnings changed so that it said that snus was safer than regular cigarettes, although all tobacco products have risks associated with them.
The Food and Drug Administration panel voted unanimously when it came to whether or not snus could cause tooth loss, decay, and gum disease. The panel said that there was no real evidence that supported the theory of Swedish Match, which was that snus products do not cause these medical conditions. The Food and Drug Administration committee does not have final say however, because the FDA can choose to reject or accept what the committee is proposing, so none of this is completely finalized as of yet. When it came to whether or not the snus products could cause cancer of the mouth, the committee was split actually, with two not voting, three members saying no, while three members voted yes. There was also a split when it came to whether or not the health risks for those that just use snus are genuinely lower than those who use cigarettes. When it came to that question, four people on the panel voted yes and four people voted no, so there was a lot of uncertainty about the real health risks associated with snus products.
One thing that the Food and Drug Administration committee did agree on was the the company, Swedish Match, did not give them a good enough warning label to replace what was already being used. The warning label Swedish Match wanted to use did not really say all of the health risks from using snus products, so the committee found that proposed label to be inappropriate. It was unclear whether or not the committee would allow the company to go back and try another label or if the warning label that is now on the products is what the FDA will be sticking with. Snus is still a tobacco product, which means the FDA has to be careful not to endorse it technically, because this could cause people who don’t use tobacco to start using it if they think there is almost no risk involved.
When it comes to what these votes really mean for the Food and Drug Administration committee, it basically shows that there is not a lot of information about snus out there yet. Not that much research has really been done to show whether or not snus is really significantly less harmful than cigarettes, and that is a problem for companies who want to get these labels off of their products. There also has not been very much in terms of evidence of whether or not cancer risks and tooth loss are the main consequences of using snus. Research needs to start focusing on the difference in tobacco products, because the public and the committee seem a little confused as to the negative aspects of snus use over time. There is also a divide as far as whether doing less harm is better or if doing no harm at all is the only way to go. Even if snus was less harmful than cigarettes, a lot of people in the health community are torn on whether less harm is a good thing when it comes to tobacco. It’s kind of like methadone replacement for heroin, because either way you are replacing one drug with another, and there is still harm involved in that change. However that same argument has also been said about electronic cigarettes too, so the medical community seems to rather have no harm than some harm.
Swedish Match was arguing that Sweden has lower smoking-related deaths because of the use of snus over traditional cigarettes. A lot of Swedish men use snus instead of smoking cigarettes, even though the actual tobacco use is virtually the same when Sweden is compared to other countries in Europe. This is the “Swedish experience” so they say, which is that you can enjoy your tobacco through snus products, but not have the negative outcomes that cigarettes do, such as death. Some of the studies that Swedish Match used were small and did not have a lot of people in them, also some of the evidence was questionable as well. This could be because the company was trying to make themselves look better or because there is not really that much information available or research out there about snus products. Either way, the FDA was not buying it that there was not the same type of health risks associated with the snus products compared to cigarettes, and for now, the disease-causing warning labels are staying on the products.