RICHMOND — Federal regulators are seeking public comment on smokeless tobacco maker Swedish Match’s request to certify its General-branded tobacco products as less harmful than cigarettes.
It is the first time the Food and Drug Administration has sought input on a modified risk tobacco product application, a move that’s being watched by the public health community and tobacco companies, which are looking for new products as they face declining cigarette demand due to tax hikes, health concerns, bans, and social stigma.
Swedish Match’s application also highlights a philosophical debate over how best to control tobacco. One camp says there’s no safe way to use tobacco and pushes for people to quit. Others embrace the idea that lower-risk alternatives like smokeless tobacco or electronic cigarettes can improve public health, if they mean fewer people smoke.
The FDA on Tuesday said it will accept comments on the company’s application to market the snus (pronounced ‘‘snoose”) products as ‘‘modified risk’’ for 180 days. Snus — teabag-like pouches or loose tobacco that users stick between their cheek and gum to get their nicotine fix — are popular in Scandinavian countries and are part of a growing smokeless tobacco market in the United States.
The agency’s scientific advisory panel also plans to review the application at its next meeting, which has not yet been scheduled.
The entire review process is expected to take about a year under a 2009 law that gave the FDA authority to evaluate tobacco products for their health risks and lets the agency approve ones that could be marketed as safer than others. None has been given the OK, but the agency has noted that some tobacco products could pose less of a health risk than smoking.