A Snus Conundrum

DESCRIPTIONPhoto: pellesten

60 Minutes recently ran a story about snus, smokeless tobacco that is not messy and that may be a substitute for cigarettes. An anti-tobacco activist talked at length about how it might worsen tobacco’s hazards by addicting more people to nicotine, leading to more smoking.

This is a standard problem whenever the damage from undertaking a risky activity is reduced: Offer a life raft and more people will jump off a sinking ship. Many will be saved, but some will drown off the life raft. Mandatory seat belts do this-lives are saved, but people also drive faster and more accidents occur. Sex education does this-there are fewer pregnancies per sexual encounter, but more sexual encounters are undertaken. Unemployment insurance does this-it is a life raft for the working, but it attracts people into the workforce who are more likely than others to be unemployed. I’ll bet that snus, like the other examples, will reduce the total damages of the risky behavior, but more people will engage in the behavior because they expect its costs to be lower.


Greg

So sex is a risky behavior. Really it is only risky if you are not educated. I just love how you group sex in with the other examples. What a joke. The joke is sex is a crime one day for a person and then the very next day it is not.

I would also prefer if you would back up your statements with some facts.

Jerry Smith

"This is a standard problem whenever the damage from undertaking a risky activity is reduced: Offer a life raft and more people will jump off a sinking ship. Many will be saved, but some will drown off the life raft. Mandatory seat belts do this-lives are saved, but people also drive faster and more accidents occur. Sex education does this-there are fewer pregnancies per sexual encounter, but more sexual encounters are undertaken."

This is the so-called Peltzman Effect. But in the Freakonomics Radio podcast of 2/5/10, economist Steve Levitt (a friend of Peltzman himself) says, "I do not believe that there ever has been convincing evidence of a single Peltzman Effect."

Does Mr. Hamermesh have any non-anecdotal examples of the Peltzman Effect at work?

fcolaiuta

Is Mr. Hamermesh a smoker, and has he tried Snus? The two experiences really aren't comparable by a long shot. There's no way that one of these nasty little packets that you stuff into your craw is going to somehow attract even more people to tobacco usage than cigarettes do.

Switching to Snus from cigarettes is a much bigger leap than just putting on a seatbelt or using condoms. Similarly, I would guess that most non-smokers would find Snus absolutely disgusting.

Snus has been out for a while now. It's not a proper life raft for cigarettes, and it's not going to attract large numbers of non-smokers. If you want to make this forced comparison, at least look at something like those electronic cigarettes.

Scotto

I believe that there is not a single study linking snus with cancer, so calling it "risky behavior" is probably inaccurate. Its as risky as coffee, it seems.

teej

Really? You think more people are having sex because of sex education? Not because cultural mores are changing, because better contraception is available, or because it was a secret before?

If only we could keep people ignorant! That would solve our problems.

nate

The internet does this - experts make fewer mistakes, but the mistakes they make lead to pages of trolling.

Madelene

Snus can give you cancer, studies have showed that, and the World Health Organisation has warned about it. But I think Mr Hamermesh draws the wrong conclusions. Here in Sweden snus is very common, but cigarettes as well. I think it's just a question of taste.

Joe McDermott

Snus is not nearly as satisfying as a healthy pinch of Copenhagen. If someone was going to try smokeless tobacco to wean themselves off of cigarettes, Cope is the way to go. You'll probably catch a decent nicotine buzz the first few times, something many longtime smokers haven't felt in a while.

Jay Livingston

"Sex education does this-there are fewer pregnancies per sexual encounter, but more sexual encounters are undertaken." Do you mean sex-ed taught in schools? Or do you mean knowledge of and access to effective contraception?

Sally

I read somewhere that since the invention of parachutes, far more people have tried jumping out of airplanes!

Chris

Having just quit smokeless tobacco in Feb of this year I can say that for myself smokeless tobacco was just as, if not more addictive than smoking.

Anyone thinking about giving up smoking and taking up snus has it /half/ right.

Craig

The big difference between smokeless tobacco and smoking is you aren't simultaneously giving cancer to the person sitting next to you.

Tonya

I quit smoking 2 years ago, but had Snus come out when I was smoking, I would never have tried it (and still won't). My husband uses smokeless tobacco (chew) and tried Snus, but didn't like it.

I don't think we have to worry about many people switching to it. For one, I think most people realize that it has the same stuff in it that is in cigarettes and chew. It also doesn't have the same "cool" factor, it's private and no one knows you're doing it.

tudza

Is this Camel stuff anywhere close to the taste of Swedish snus? Swedish snus has a salty taste.

Ted

"There are fewer pregnancies per sexual encounter, but more sexual encounters are undertaken".

This is a pair of empirical claims. Is there any evidence for them (particularly the second one)?

Rebelle

Hammermesh, you've never been poor or working-class, have you? Unemployment insurance "attracts people into the workforce who are more likely than others to be unemployed."? Really? Are you suggesting that people who don't have to work decide to because they're HOPING to get laid off and collect unemployment? I think what attracts most people to the workplace (often against their better wishes) is the need for income.

Anon

"Sex education does this-there are fewer pregnancies per sexual encounter, but more sexual encounters are undertaken."

That's actually not true. Studies show that increased sex education does not lead to increased sexual activity.

tomonzo

In Sweden, where snus has been available for more than a hundred years, much more people use ti then smoke cigaretts. I bet the same will happen in every county where snus is now available in the next 10 to 20 years.

--Lia

Do people really drive faster and get into more accidents because they believe the seatbelts will protect them?
Do people who wear seatbelts really engage in riskier driving behavior?
Others commented on the disconnect between sex education and sexual encounters. The dangerous seatbelt business is the one that jumped out and caught my eye.
I'd be happy to be corrected. Are there any statistics on this?

G Lazman

What Tom Vanderbilt said in his book on traffic was that although cars are much safer than they used to be, the number of daeths per year has been almost steady for about a decade, and I believe the crash rate has increased a bit. Although I don't have the book in front of me to corroborate his exact conclusion, his point was that the safer cars have become, the behavior of drivers in general has been to drive faster and riskier, more or less cancelling out the benefit of safer cars. There are also discussion of this phenominon in Gladwell's "What the Dog Saw."