Snus!

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I recently went on my honeymoon to Beijing and Hong Kong. One of the more trivial pleasures I was anticipating was smoking yet another Cuban cigar. I opted to wait until Hong Kong to enjoy one, since my time in Beijing was spent sightseeing and I would not be able to be sure that the "Cuban" cigars I could buy in Beijing would be authentic.

In every Hong Kong movie I have seen (the best being Hard-Boiled and The Killer) everyone chain-smoked cigarettes. I assumed that one of the world's freest economies would still allow citizens to smoke anywhere and everywhere. But, I was wrong. I was still able to smoke my cigar sitting outside of a bar, and it was warm outside so I was comfortable. It was annoying, however, that I could not actually smoke inside the bar. Furthermore, just 50 feet away was a public garden of some sort, where smoking was prohibited. It was worse than the United States.

Misnamed "public" smoking bans have been sweeping the United States, and it seems that smokers have nowhere to go except for outside. How depressing it is to see private property subjected to paternalist rule. Even worse, in many places I see signs indicating that not only is smoking banned, but all tobacco products as well.

In some cases, individuals are able to get around the smoking ban. Some prefer the new electronic cigarettes that simulate smoking without producing any smoke. They function primarily as nicotine delivery devices. While no tobacco is actually present in electronic cigarettes, it seems likely that places banning tobacco products would frown on them. Other individuals have taken to starting collections in their favorite bars to help defray the costs of fines. This works well so long as there are a good number of smokers in the bar, most contribute, and the bar does not incur too many fines. Finally, in some cases, small, local bars have a tacit understanding with the local authorities, whereby smoking continues and no citations are issued.

While these all work to some degree, there is another tobacco option that is available for individuals who simply enjoy tobacco or need a nicotine fix and don't feel like wandering out into the cold. The alternative is snus, a Swedish tobacco product banned throughout most of Europe (thankfully, though, it is legal in most states in America). It consists of snuff packed into small teabags. The teabag is then placed in the upper lip, and saliva mixes to release the tobacco. Unlike chew, no spitting is required.

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Why is snus an attractive alternative? First, it is relatively discreet. From a distance, it is impossible to tell whether someone is doing snus. I regularly flaunt tobacco bans with snus. Some rebellious tobacco enthusiasts and libertarians would prefer, of course, to openly flaunt the law by smoking. However, in many cases the costs fall on the owner of the property (who has probably already suffered a loss of revenue due to smoking bans). When they don't fall on the owner, I, like many others, would prefer to avoid paying fines, especially in the midst of an economic depression.

Second, snus has a broad appeal. Several friends, none of whom smoke cigarettes, enjoy it. It comes in many different flavors, but none of the flavors overwhelm the tobacco. You can find mint-, liquorice-, citrus- and non-flavored snus. The new snus user should probably start with General White Portion or General Wintergreen. Snus is generally less expensive than cigarettes, especially when bought in bulk online. However, avoid the Camel products spreading across the country like the plague. They are overpriced, taste terrible, have less tobacco, and are made by one of the very companies seeking increased fines on alternative forms of tobacco (such as cigars).

Third, snus has less negative health effects than smoking. Even the most ardent smoking enthusiasts have to admit that smoking cigarettes in excess has negative health effects on the user. Secondhand smoke, of course, is not anywhere near as dangerous as the paternalists want everyone to believe; however, the whiners of society always raise hell when someone smokes near them. Thus, one can avoid annoying these people (and thus avoid their moralizing) by using snus. Snus has not been linked to lung cancer. It is minimally linked to oral cancer. Using snus does, however, increase the chances of pancreatic cancer from .0033% to .0084%. I will let the reader decide if this small risk factor is worth worrying about. If one is curious, examine the cancer rates by country and pay attention to Sweden where snus use is prevalent. The rates there are very low. All in all, snus is much safer than cigarettes. The fact that it is banned by the EU (with an exception granted for Sweden) is beyond belief. It's akin to legalizing shots of Everclear but banning beer.

Fourth, nicotine has several positive properties when used in moderation. Of course, there are downsides to excess nicotine intake, but moderate use can be beneficial. Nicotine can help improve concentration and memory. It acts as a stimulant. It has a shorter half-life than caffeine, and thus can be enjoyed in the early evening. Nicotine can decrease hunger and thus help users to lose weight. When it comes to nicotine there are many haters, but what can one expect after years of preaching by self-interested government officials and professional paternalists?

What are the downsides to snus? People you know and are often around people who dislike tobacco will probably not approve. The more reasonable among them will see its advantages even though they dislike it. The less reasonable will probably voice their annoyances repeatedly. Remind them that they don't have to like it, and that your choice does not affect them in any way. They will probably continue to moralize. Simply ignore them at this point. Some people simply can't be reasoned with or are unable to think outside the establishment box. Just as libertarianism is incomprehensible to some, so is using snus.

All in all, snus is the best way to flaunt draconian bans on tobacco products, and provides the user with an enjoyable experience. Why would one choose not to do snus?

John Ostrowski [send him mail] is a graduate student in political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Visit his blog.

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