"I don't consider myself a smoker, but I can have a puff now and then if I want to. I can go without cigarettes for months. But the snuff - I never want to be without it."
Kent Andreasson is one of more than a million Swedes who use snus daily - 25 per cent of men aged 30 to 64. He keeps the cigarettes away with the help of a pill under his lip.
This is his story.
- UIn the spring of 2023, the Road studs with Convenience Stores Sweden News to depict Swedish nicotine consumption, beyond the statistics. This is a slightly modified version of the original report that was published in CSS News. -
Uddevalla in the early 1980s. A punky rehearsal space where a bunch of young, long-haired boys create contemporary musical art with the help of circularity and discrete guitars.
"It was a bit of a highlight of my life, actually. We had hidden a can of Gold River in the bass drum. Then we'd take it out when we were rehearsing with the band and we'd each put a little something in it. Not portions, but coarse loose snuff. Then we waited for the spinning to come. It was both a little uncomfortable and cool at the same time. It took about six months to get used to it," says Kent Andreasson.
The base, the smoke and the snuff
When we meet, it is almost 40 years since those days in the rehearsal room. Kent Andreasson is 51 and hasn't played bass in a band for quite a few years now. He is a craftsman and runs his own business in Uddevalla. But even though he has put the bass on the shelf, snus has been a constant companion in his life, he says.
"I have also smoked occasionally - but I have been able to go without cigarettes for months, or longer, it doesn't matter. The snus on the other hand...no thanks. I've been travelling a lot and then it's usually not possible to buy snus. If you bring too little, you end up in the foetal position in the hotel bed. Sure, you can smoke to get your nicotine, but it's not the same thing."
"Kids will try anything they can get their hands on"
We are talking about the relationship between smoking and snuffing. Sweden is probably one of the few countries where two forms of nicotine use have developed alongside each other, especially among young people. Snus and cigarettes on the other hand. The scene in the rehearsal room in Uddevalla in the 1980s has certainly been played out in many places in our country - and given the uptake of nicotine pouches among young people - it is still being played out, but with different products.
"Kids will try anything they can get their hands on. The more we were told "you can't try that" the more we just HAD to try it. Right? That's what it's like to be young. I remember when the Non Smoking Generation was in the classroom and told us how stupid it was to smoke. I'm sure it's different from person to person, but I felt they were just pretentious and a bit silly. Just listening to them made me want to smoke." says Kent Andreasson.
Smoking not accepted anymore
He also feels that attitudes towards smoking have changed a lot since he was young. "It's no longer unproblematic to smoke a cigarette anyway. Especially not if the children see it, he says.
"No, not at all. The few times when I've had a puff on the balcony, they start barking at me. They are aged 8-10 and are taught early on in school about how dangerous it is to smoke. They take that home with them. 'You die from smoking' they say. And who wants to disagree?"
"No negative consequences"
The risks of smoking have long been recognised - cancer and cardiovascular disease are just the first name for the consequences of a life of daily smoking. And Kent Andreasson buys the arguments. However, he has not found snus to be particularly unhealthy.
"I have never noticed any negative consequences of snusing. Not even on teeth and gums. And I've been snusing more or less constantly since my teenage years. In fact, I've never had a cavity either. I sometimes suspect it's because of the snus. But who knows. Maybe I have good genes," he jokes.
The Swedish snus user
The Swedish tradition of putting a biscuit under the lip from time to time is deeply rooted. This also applied to the Andreasson family. 'Snus has been important in the family for a long time,' says Kent. Relatives would put the cans on the table during family dinners. Snus culture? Yes, almost.
"I remember my grandfather snuffing like crazy. He was 87 years old and basically died with a cigarette under his lip. That's what he wanted, I guess."
From lice to bag
Snus has been part of Swedish society for over 200 years, give or take a few decades depending on how you look at it. An aristocratic occupation, which in the 18th century involved sniffing dried tobacco flour, was transformed into something primarily enjoyed by working-class men in the middle of the last century. The 'modern' snus, portioned pouches, made a breakthrough in the mid-1970s and became as common among white-collar workers as blue-collar workers in the following decades. But Kent Andreasson and his friends never got hooked on so-called 'mes-snus'.
"I only switched to portions in the 90s. Before that it was loose snus. I didn't care much about "baking" the snus. It was just down with my fingers and up under my lip. That I switched to portions was more for practical reasons. I did a lot of enduro (motorbike in the forest) and it wasn't a hit to try to blow out a snuff in the helmet right away," he laughs.
Snus has replaced smoking
According to statistics from the EU, snus use is part of the explanation for Sweden's low rate of lung-related diseases that nicotine use (in the form of smoking) usually causes. This is particularly noticeable among Swedish men, where smoking is virtually non-existent (less than 5 per cent) while snus use is very common (almost 20 per cent). For example, compared to the same group of men aged 30-60 in Europe, Swedish men are much less likely to suffer from lung cancer and COPD. Snus is now banned everywhere in the EU except in Sweden and the figures are usually the subject of heated debate between anti-tobacco activists, snus users and Swedish snus manufacturers. Despite this, it is undoubtedly the case that many Swedish men prefer snus to smoking - when using nicotine.
"Something to fall back on"
Kent Andreasson is initially a little surprised when we talk about the fact that so few Swedes smoke today. It is, after all, one of the reasons for the interview, a fact that has attracted the interest of many international observers. Has snus made Swedes smoke-free?
"Well, I haven't thought much about that. I used to hang out in the smoking area with the others and smoked daily. But I probably smoked mostly because it was "tough". Snus was something I did alongside all that, more because I really liked it. But of course, it is clear that snus has certainly played a major role for many who have quit smoking. It becomes much easier when you have something to fall back on," he says.
Would you consider giving up snus?
"No, not really. Why would I do that? I like the feeling of the tingling under the lip. And the nicotine, too. It makes my days easier. I enjoy snuffing and being able to have a cigarette now and then, if the mood strikes. But as I said, the cigarettes are not important. I can do without them"
New nicotine pouches - "far too sweet"
We talk about how young people today are using more alternative nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes and nicotine pouches. E-cigarettes have never stuck with him, he says. Not even nicotine pouches
"E-cigs taste way too sweet and nicotine pouches are more of a 'substitute' if for some reason the real snus runs out." he says
At the same time, he understands that the interest is greater than for regular snus right now.
"I think nicotine pouches work better than regular snus for those who smoke and need something simple to replace the cigarette. It's not as big a step to put one under your lip, actually. For me, however, it's like putting a piece of chewing gum under my lip. A bit pointless. I once met a lorry driver who wanted to stop snusing. He put a piece of horseradish under his lip. I never really understood it. It just makes you angry," he laughs.
Kids don't like it when you smoke. But how do they feel about snus?
"Snus is so discreet that it is rarely noticed. But they know I use snus and don't usually complain about it," says Kent. "But I would never encourage my children to use snus. Unless it keeps them away from a lot of other crap. It's really not that simple. Like I said. It can easily have a reverse effect to tell your kids not to do this or that. That's the punk in me talking, I guess."
Snus in your back pocket - a classic.
Says Kent Andreasson, chuckling as he searches his pocket for his snuff box. We have stood by one of Uddevalla's busiest streets to take a picture. It's windy and we are thinking about how best to illustrate a Swedish snus user.
"A picture of the back pocket would have been good. Where the fabric has moulded itself to the snuff box after several years. Unfortunately, I've never been able to do that. I don't have trousers like that", Kent Andreasson laughs and poses for the camera. "Damn, there's only a tiny bit left in the can," he says in amazement and smiles.