Most of us assume the days of pro athletes chewing tobacco or having a crafty cigarette between training sessions are long gone. The truth could come as something of a surprise. The latest survey data shows that the old image of a pitcher on the mount with a mouthful of tobacco is not so alien in the 2020s, and 45% of baseball players dib. Meanwhile, far from being consigned to history, the practice is growing in popularity across the ocean among Premier League footballers.
Snus in the news
Back in 2016, Premier league club Leicester City shocked every football betting site by winning the Premier League having started the season with odds of +500,000 to win the league. One of the stars that year was Jamie Vardey, a striker at the height of his powers and leading the attack for both club and country.
During that year’s Euro 2016 tournament, Vardey was photographed clutching a pack of chewing tobacco, known as “snus” in the UK, in one hand and a can of energy drink in the other. The media fall out can be easily imagined, as Vardey was at the time one of the nation’s most influential athletes.
Vardey played down the incident at the time, suggesting that snus “helped him to chill out.” He said he had been introduced to snus by other Leicester players when he joined the club in 2012, and that some even use them during matches.
The legal and regulatory position
There are no regulations within the Football Association that prohibit the use of snus, any more than there are on cigarettes. However, the sale of snus is prohibited in the UK and across the European Union. Still, Jamie Vardey and other Premier League players including Manchester United’s Victor Lindelof are not doing anything illegal.
In one of those bizarre regulatory quirks, it is illegal to sell snus but it is not illegal to possess or use them. Realistically, it takes a matter of seconds to find snus for sale online and sellers seem either oblivious or blasé regarding any legal exposure.
What are the risks?
Research into the health impact of snus is still ongoing. However, it is a matter of public record that they have been associated with increased cancer risk, cardiovascular disease, increased mortality after cancer, elevated blood pressure, obesity, psychosis and even type-2 diabetes.
Clearly it’s not an ideal product for athletes to openly promote, especially athletes who are heroes and role models to legions of impressionable young supporters. Beyond that, though, there are also questions as to how snus might affect performance.
There is no proof at present that snus do anything to directly enhance sporting performance, but the suggestion that they ease stress and anxiety while improving focus and alertness certainly bears more consideration. Snus are currently on the WDA’s “watch” list and Dr Toby Mundel, who carried out some preliminary studies on the topic in 2018, has called for more research into whether use of snus gives athletes an unfair advantage.