When I first began working here I noticed one of my colleagues would occasionally discreetly pop what looked like a tablet underneath his top lip.
I assumed he had Vitamin B12 deficiency, or some other medical condition requiring rapid medicinal delivery to the blood stream.
Then, I noticed another colleague also suffering from the same aliment. Several times a day, he too, would discreetly pop a pill underneath his lip.
Not wanting to be impolite, I would respectfully look away.
And then I saw another colleague get in on the act. Maybe it was seasonal, I reasoned. It could be a vitamin D deficiency. Sunlight, or even any form of daylight, is now fast becoming a rare occurrence.
As the weeks progressed, I started noticing more and more workmates taking these tablets, not once, but several times a day. Always discreetly but without embarrassment, often in the midst of conversation, and usually just the men. (I figured women were probably in on it too, but just better at disguising it)
Finally, I decided that whatever it was, if they were all afflicted by this condition, it wouldn’t be rude to ask.
So, over a beer, I asked one of the devs what it was that he carried around in that small metal pill box.
“Snus.”, was the puzzled reply.
After some further questioning, I finally achieved enlightened much to the bemusement of my colleagues.
Snus are tiny tobacco tea bags placed underneath the top lip, where the nicotine is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. After maybe 10-15 minutes the teabag is removed and discarded.
Apparently one sachet contains the equivalent amount of nicotine as smoking continuously for an hour.
I asked my colleagues how many sachets they take. Around 10 – 15 was the answer, or about one an hour, some even take them at night while sleeping.
They are cigarettes without the cancer.
And they are tremendously popular in Norway and Sweden, but mostly unheard of in the rest of the world, and even banned in many places including the EU. The reason for the ban is unclear, perhaps because people take them in such large quantities.
There are mandatory warning labels: “May cause lip cancer”, “May cause teeth to fall out”. But, these are debatable, and there seems little evidence to suggest Snus has any carcinogenic properties at all. For the most part nicotine on its own is not harmful, and in any event, orders of magnitude less harmful than smoking. Even the WHO acknowledges this, but is unwilling to encourage people to switch from smoking to tea bagging. I guess it doesn’t look as cool.
Still, here in Norway it seems everyone has been seduced. My colleagues, people on the streets, people on buses; everyone. Sidewalks are not littered with cigarette butts, or chewing gum, but rather tiny teabags.
And, when they’re not snussing, they seem to be drinking coffee.
Suddenly, I realized how Norwegians are able to turn up at work at 8am, not go to bed until after midnight and still have enough energy to play with their children, go mountain climbing, cycle 60km, do their grocery shopping, or play soccer all on a week day.
Snus. It’s what keeps Norway ticking.