Science, technology, and life.
Dec. 8 2008 7:57 AM


Be careful how you justify a war on drugs. Drugs can be modified so that your arguments no longer apply.

That's what the anti-tobacco movement is now learning. In state after state and country after country, smoking has been banned in public places: bars, restaurants, even apartment buildings. Everywhere, the rallying cry for these measures is that other people have a right not to breathe your smoke. Smoking is harmful to them, so you have to stop.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.


Except now you don't have to . You can keep using tobacco, but in a way that doesn't get into other people's eyes, throats, and lungs. The Associated Press reports :

[T]he folks who created Joe Camel are hoping Camel Snus will become a hit with tobacco lovers tired of being forced outside for a smoke. ... Snus—Swedish for tobacco, rhymes with "noose—is a tiny, tea bag-like pouch of steam-pasteurized, smokeless tobacco to tuck between the cheek and gum. Aromatic to the user and undetectable to anyone else, it promises a hit of nicotine without the messy spitting associated with chewing tobacco. ... With more public bans on puffing, [tobacco companies] say smokers need socially acceptable alternatives. ... "There's no secondhand smoke. There's no spitting. We see it as a win-win," says [an R.J.] Reynolds spokesman.

Undetectable to anyone else . No secondhand smoke . There goes your rationale for ordering people to stop using tobacco. "At least two tobacco companies besides Reynolds are also test-marketing snus," says the AP. What are you going to about it? What can you say?

In the AP article, public health advocates try to make a case against snus. It's "a second addiction," they argue. It can cause cancers of the mouth and pancreas. It's just an industry scheme to find "replacement smokers" for the millions of customers its death sticks have killed.

Well, good luck with those arguments. Of course snus is addictive, but that alone isn't sufficient grounds for banning things. As for its health effects , even the top scientist at the American Cancer Society tells AP, "If all smokers switched to snus tomorrow, in a few years we'd certainly see less heart disease, less lung disease and fewer cancers." And why exactly should we be upset if the tobacco industry has figured out a way to keep itself alive by keeping its customers alive?

I'm not endorsing snus. It's carcinogenic, addictive, and gross. I'm just not sure those are good reasons for restricting it the way we've restricted cigarettes. And I say this as a lockstep fascist for laws against smoking in public. If you aren't smoking—if you're just sucking , or whatever it is—I don't really see what basis I have for making you take your bad habit elsewhere.

If, on the other hand, you're a nonsmoker who's aggressive enough to wage a cigarette-like war on snus, where will you stop? Do you imagine that tobacco and its core product, nicotine, won't be engineered into new forms? Already, AP reports that Reynolds is "developing dissolvable tobacco strips, orbs and sticks that it will start test-marketing early next year in Portland, Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio." Are you going to ban strips and orbs?

Look, I'm no fan of drugs. I don't even drink coffee. My advice is to stay away from all tobacco products. But if you choose a tobacco product that basically leaves me alone, I'll show you the same courtesy.