Chewing Tobacco’s Grip on Football: The Growing Problem of Snus Use Among Players

May, 2024

Professional soccer is one of the most grueling and stressful sports, subjecting players to near constant pressure to perform at the highest level while navigating injury risks, media scrutiny, and an unstable career path. It’s no surprise then that rates of mental health issues among footballers mirror those of the general public. Faced with the stresses of their high-pressure jobs, some players have increasingly turned to mood-altering substances like alcohol, cannabis, and painkillers for relief. However, one substance in particular has gained significant popularity within professional soccer circles in recent years – snus.

Snus is a moist powder or tea bag-like tobacco product placed between the upper lip and gum. It delivers nicotine without the smoke of cigarettes. Unlike other forms of smokeless tobacco, snus is not fermented, giving it a milder taste. This has likely contributed to its spread among European soccer leagues. While the overall prevalence of snus use among footballers is unknown, anecdotal reports suggest it has become very common in England and Sweden in particular. Players say they use it before matches for relaxation and focus, or simply to pass the time during travel. The growth of snus mirrors trends seen with other addictive substances that are used to manage the stresses of professional sport.

However, regular snus use also carries substantial health risks players may not fully appreciate. As a form of oral tobacco that delivers nicotine, there is good evidence it increases risks for periodontal disease and oral cancers over the long-term. Nicotine itself is highly addictive and prolonged use can eventually lead to dependence. Beyond oral health issues, nicotine acts as a stimulant in lower doses but is also a depressant; its effects on cognition and psychomotor performance are complex and not fully understood. Chronic snus use has also been linked to cardiovascular diseases like hypertension due to the strain on the circulatory system.

While some players believe snus does not impact athletic performance, the scientific evidence so far suggests otherwise. Nicotine is known to disrupt sleep quality and duration when used regularly. Lack of sleep, even in small deficits, is proven to negatively influence exercise recovery, injury risk and same-day athletic output. Nicotine is also an appetite suppressant, which could undermine optimal nutrition behaviors important for performance and recovery. To date, very few studies have directly investigated the impacts of snus on specific elements of soccer performance like repeated sprint ability, skill execution or decision making under pressure. More research is still needed.

This raises wider questions about how to approach the issue of snus use within professional soccer. Currently, nicotine itself is not banned by international anti-doping authorities as a performance enhancing drug. But with growing recognition of its health risks and likely influences on factors important for an athlete’s career, this could change in the future. The good news is interventions show promise for helping players reduce or quit snus if the right multi-pronged approach is taken.

Based on statements from current and former footballers, the primary driver of snus uptake seems to be as a means of stress-relief and mood management rather than actual performance benefits. This suggests psychological factors are playing a key role and must be addressed. Implementing routine mental health screening programs could help clubs identify at-risk players earlier. Multi-disciplinary support involving coaches, medics, psychologists and pharmacotherapies would likely have the best chance of success. Reducing stigmas around mental healthcare seeking in sport will also be important to encourage help-seeking. Work is also needed to develop alternative coping strategies footballers can utilize during the inevitable ups and downs of their careers.

More collaborative research involving sports scientists, physicians, psychologists and player representatives would help unravel important unanswered questions about snus. Detailed surveys could provide accurate usage data and help profile typical users. Carefully controlled trials are still needed to dissect nicotine’s impact on specific soccer-related skills, recovery biomarkers and injury risk factors. Gathering long-term health outcome data on former players would shed light on snus’ true risks, which may differ in athletic populations. Overall, a holistic approach is warranted that acknowledges the complex interplay between mental health, addiction and performance for elite footballers.

If left unaddressed, widespread snus dependence within the sport could emerge as a broader public health issue. But with open communication and support, clubs and governing bodies have an opportunity to positively influence player wellness. Reducing harm from substances like snus starts by understanding what drives their use in high-pressure professional sports. With targeted interventions and more research, it may be possible to discourage addictions while still promoting strategies to manage soccer’s inherent stresses. The well-being of footballers deserves a comprehensive solution that considers all impacts on both their short and long-term health.

 

Reference(s)

  1. Read, Daniel; Carter, Sarah; Hopley, Phil; Chamari, Karim; Taylor, Lee (2023). Snus use in football: the threat of a new addiction?. Loughborough University. Journal contribution. https://hdl.handle.net/2134/25117625.v1

 

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NICOTINE | PUBLIC HEALTH | SPORTS MEDICINE

About the Author

  • Dilruwan Herath

    Dilruwan Herath is a British infectious disease physician and pharmaceutical medical executive with over 25 years of experience. As a doctor, he specialized in infectious diseases and immunology, developing a resolute focus on public health impact. Throughout his career, Dr. Herath has held several senior medical leadership roles in large global pharmaceutical companies, leading transformative clinical changes and ensuring access to innovative medicines. Currently, he serves as an expert member for the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine on it Infectious Disease Commitee and continues advising life sciences companies. When not practicing medicine, Dr. Herath enjoys painting landscapes, motorsports, computer programming, and spending time with his young family. He maintains an avid interest in science and technology. He is a founder of DarkDrug

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