The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cleared the first new tobacco products for the U.S. market. This is the first time products have passed through the FDA's system under a 2009 law that gave the agency authority to evaluate new tobacco products for their health risks.
The FDA can clear tobacco products that do not pose new or significant risks to the public health, but this does not mean that these products, or any tobacco products, are safe or "FDA approved."
The agency cleared the sale of eight varieties of little pouches of tobacco called snus, which will be sold by the Swedish Match company. These packets are like a little tea bag of moist tobacco and are used by placing them under the lip. Snus are popular in Scandinavia and are a form of smokeless tobacco.
Several brands of snus are already available in the United States from a number of companies, including Swedish Match and Phillip Morris. The newly-cleared varieties of snus will be sold under Swedish Match's General brand. The company also sells Longhorn and Timber Wolf brands of snus. The new varieties of snus were revamped, and were the first to go through the FDA's review pathway.
The clearance by the FDA is expected to encourage research and development efforts by tobacco companies. Tobacco companies are looking for ways to boost sales because the demand for cigarettes has been hurt by tax increases, health concerns, smoking bans, and a social stigma against smoking.
Swedish Match's snus pouches are unlikely to cause people to begin using tobacco, or keep current tobacco users from quitting, according to the FDA's review. Smokeless tobacco products like snus are linked to cancer of the mouth, esophagus, and pancreas.
The company has filed a separate application with the FDA that seeks permission to market its snus products as less hazardous than cigarettes and some other tobacco products. That application is still under review by the FDA.