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Israel's health ministry is trying to find legal means to halt the import and sale of a fruit flavoured smokeless tobacco product from Sweden that is sucked between the gum and the upper lip for its “nicotine effect.”
The product was recently allowed into Israel, apparently by the ministry of industry and trade, even though smokeless tobacco products have not been imported for 20 years—since the state comptroller wrote in his annual report that it was illegal to bring them into the country.
Called Kicks in Israel and “snus” in Sweden, the tin, sold for the equivalent of $8 (£4; €6), contains 20 tiny teabag-like packets that are sucked for up to 30 minutes each. The importer predicted that Kicks was “going to be the hit of the summer among smokers and certainly among parents of children. [It] will reduce the smoke and smells of cigarettes in our environment and also help smokers get nicotine in a more healthy way.”
But research from the University of Minnesota Cancer Centre published in August shows that users of smokeless tobacco are exposed to more tobacco specific carcinogenic nitrosamines than smokers are (Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention 2007;16:1567-72). Such products “have been proposed by some as safer alternatives to cigarettes, but they are not safe,” said one of the authors of the study, the cancer prevention expert Stephen Hecht.
The health ministry fears that numerous smokeless tobacco products will be brought in for smokers who are prevented by law from smoking in all public buildings, malls, private offices, and also outdoor cafes. At present in Europe only Sweden and other Scandinavian countries allow the import and sale of smokeless tobacco products. Also children may buy the products even though tobacco products may not be sold to minors. The ministry admits enforcement of this law is weak.
Because Kicks is to be sucked in the mouth and absorbed by the body it is obviously a food product, and one that causes harm such as cancer can easily be barred by the government, said Amos Hausner, chairman of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking. “The mere existence of tobacco in a harmful food should not turn it into a product allowed for public consumption. It is a product consumed as a food and therefore should be treated as such.”
The health ministry associate director-general, Boaz Lev, said the ministry definitely wanted to keep Kicks out. But he said that the World Health Organization defines smokeless tobacco as a “tobacco product.”
“There is no instant legal way to prevent its marketing and sale; we are investigating what we can do,” he said. He could not explain why the trade ministry, which would say only that it was “investigating,” had allowed the import of smokeless tobacco after many years of banning it.
The health ministry is checking whether Kicks carries health warnings on the tin, which are mandatory for all tobacco products, and whether it is being sold to minors or advertised in the electronic media, in youth magazines, or on billboards. If so, immediate legal action would be taken against the company, Dr Lev said.