An investigation has been launched into the “widespread” use among Premier League footballers of a tobacco product that has been linked with heart conditions and cancers.
Snus, a smokeless product that comes in a tea pouch and is placed between the gum and top lip, is banned from sale in the UK and every country in the European Union except Sweden, but is legal to consume and is not on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances.
It releases tobacco into the bloodstream and is said to have a calming impact, but there is mounting concern inside professional football over its prevalence and reports of it being offered to academy players as young as 13.
Lee Johnson, the former Sunderland manager who is now managing League Two Fleetwood, has described snus as “very detrimental to performance” and a “big big problem in football”, but there are also mounting concerns over the longer-term health impacts.
The Telegraph has been told that its use has been found to be “widespread” across the professional game, including in the Premier League, and the Professional Footballers’ Association has now launched a joint research project with Loughborough University.
A 2020 academic study into snus use among men found “increased all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, with death from other causes and possibly with increased cancer mortality”.
Other studies have found that snus is significantly less risky than smoking. European data published by the World Health Organisation in 2018 indicated that Sweden, the one EU country in which it can be legally sold, had the lowest rate of tobacco-related mortality and the lowest incidence of male lung cancer.
England and Leicester striker Jamie Vardy admitted to using snus in his 2016 autobiography, saying that it helped him to “chill out”, but then revealed that he had stopped taking it due to the adverse reaction.
“I had to kick it because you lot made a big deal about it so I don’t think I’ll be getting pictured with them again,” he told reporters in 2018. “There’s nothing wrong with them. I thought ‘I don’t need the hassle’.”
The joint PFA/Loughborough investigation will last 12 months and seek both to identify how many professional players are using snus, while also raising awareness of its negative health impacts.
This will involve reviewing existing evidence, interviewing players and staff, and surveys of PFA members.
“There is a high level of concern in the football community about players using snus and the potential impact this may have on their welfare,” said lead researcher Dr Daniel Read, from the Institute for Sport Business at Loughborough University.
“Through this project with the PFA, we hope to learn more from the players’ perspective to better support their physical and mental wellbeing.”
The findings will then feed into the PFA’s established welfare and safeguarding programmes, as well as informing football medical teams across the country of the risks involved.
“Through our conversations with players and their clubs we are aware that there is a rise in the use of snus in the game” said Dr Michael Bennett, the PFA’s director of player Wellbeing. “We want to use research like this to better understand that trend, the motivations of players and how aware they are of the risks. We can then use that knowledge to play our part in ensuring members are aware of the negative impacts that can be associated with snus use.”