18A.1 Forms of smokeless tobacco and how they are regulated

Last updated: August 2016 

Suggested citation: Greenhalgh, EM, Gartner, C, & Scollo, MM. InDepth 18A: Smokeless tobacco. In Scollo, MM and Winstanley, MH [editors]. Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria; 2016. Available from: http://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-18-harm-reduction/indepth-18a-smokeless-tobacco

Smokeless tobacco refers to tobacco products that are consumed by means other than smoking/burning, and can be used nasally or orally.1 Common forms of smokeless tobacco include:

  • Snuff, which is finely ground tobacco that can be purchased moist or dry. It is available loose, in dissolvable lozenges or strips, or in tea bag-like sachets. Moist snuff, or ‘snus’, is placed between the user’s cheek and gums or behind the upper or lower lip allowing nicotine to be absorbed through the oral mucous membranes.2 Dry snuff can be inhaled into the nose.3
  • Chewing tobacco, which consists of shredded tobacco in the form of loose leaves, plugs (bricks), or twists of rope. A piece of tobacco is placed between the cheek and lower lip, usually toward the back of the mouth, and can be chewed or held in place.4

Oral tobacco was briefly marketed in Australia during the 1980s, however all smokeless tobacco products were subsequently banned in several states during the late 1980s. A permanent federal ban on the manufacture, importation and commercial supply of the products came into effect in June 1991,4 although consumers are able to privately import up to 1.5 kilograms of smokeless tobacco into Australia.5 In mid-2006 there was a significant increase in taxation on these products, from $2.30/kg to $300.39/kg,6 taking the customs duty into line with that in all other tobacco products.

This regulatory framework allows current users to access smokeless tobacco, while discouraging uptake by non-tobacco users (especially young people).7 Some health experts advocate wider availability of smokeless tobacco, arguing that these products have the potential to reduce tobacco-related disease, and that it is nonsensical that the most harmful form of tobacco product (cigarettes) is subject to far fewer restrictions. Reducing taxes and allowing commercial importation and supply could potentially promote reduced harm among smokers who switch to smokeless products.8,9 Others are more wary, citing potential for dual use (i.e., the use of smokeless products in smokefree areas) and concern that the tobacco industry may use covert advertising techniques to promote uptake by young people.10

Relevant news and research

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1. International Agency for Research on Cancer, Smokeless tobacco and some tobacco-specific N-Nitrosamines. IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans Lyon, France: IARC; 2004. Available from: http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/recentpub/mono89.pdf .

2. Benowitz N. Smokeless tobacco as a nicotine delivery device: harm or harm reduction? Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 2011; 90(4):491–3. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21934719

3. National Cancer Institute, Smokeless tobacco and cancer. Bethesda, MA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute; 2010. Available from: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/smokeless .

4. Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. Smokeless tobacco products. Available from: https://www.productsafety.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/974275#toc5

5. Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. Importing smokeless tobacco. Available from: https://www.productsafety.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/975942

6. Excise Tariff Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform and Other Measures) Act. Australian Government, 2006. Available from: http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/F2006L02020

7. Tobacco Working Group. Tobacco control in Australia: making smoking history.  Prepared for the National Preventative Health Taskforce by the Tobacco Working Group. Technical report (Preventative Health Taskforce Secretariat, Department of Health and Ageing), Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2008. Available from: http://www.preventativehealth.org.au/ .

8. Gartner CE and Hall WD. Should Australia lift its ban on low nitrosamine smokeless tobacco products? Medical Journal of Australia, 2008; 188(1):44–6. Available from: https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2008/188/1/should-australia-lift-its-ban-low-nitrosamine-smokeless-tobacco-products#21

9. Gartner C, Hall W, and Borland R. How should we regulate smokeless tobacco products and e-cigarettes? The Medical Journal of Australia, 2012; 197(11):611–2. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23230916

10. Chapman S. Repealing Australia's ban on smokeless tobacco? Hasten slowly. Medical Journal of Australia, 2008; 188(1):47–9. Available from: https://mjainsight.com.au/system/files/issues/188_01_070108/cha11127_fm.pdf