The Odens Snus You Know.....
Odens Snus came in three flavors: Original, Cinnamon, and Licorice. There were two nicotine levels to choose from; 8mg/g regular and a heady 17mg/g Extra Stark. The SnusCentral Snus Store in Sweden sent me samples of all to try. The Cinnamon Extra Stark was my favorite among them all; probably because it's the only cinnamon flavored snus available. The nicotine hit was great on all the Extra Stark versions but the taste in general was just OK. With the exception of the Cinnamon Extra Stark which is an occasional use snus for me, I never ordered any of the others again.
As SnusCentral.com got a feel for consumer reaction, we stopped carrying the 8mg/g versions and now only carry the Extra Stark products. These Odens snus products have a loyal following to this day.
The manufacturer contracted by Gajane to make these Oden's products is a large and established snus manufacturer. This manufacturer had their own successful brands and used the latest production methods so snus quality was never an issue; just taste. Since taste is in the mouth of the snuser, the pros and cons centered around personal preference as they should.
The Odens Snus You DON'T Know.......
Around Week 36 of 2010, a new Odens Snus was released; Odens 69 Dry White Portion snus. This was a complete new direction for the Oden's brand. I don't know who was more surprised; Odens Snus fans or the large and established snus manufacturer who made all the others Odens Snus products. Odens 69 snus was being made by GN Tobacco.
GN Tobacco (GNT) does not rank me as one of their biggest fans based on my Jan 12 and Jan 18 2010 articles. Taste aside, it boils down to one real issue: true reduced harm snus. GNT does not steam pasteurize their snus products as all the other Swedish snus manufacturers do. They use an older process called heat pasteurization.
Since GN Tobacco started producing their Olde Viking brand of snus, I have been going back and forth with different people at Gajane and GNT over the pasteurization issue. Steam pasteurization is the state-of-the-art method known to kill the micro-organisms which create the cancer-causing agents in tobacco known as nitrosamines or TSNA's. Snus not created this way would have a much shorter shelf-life since the TSNA levels would rise again the longer the product sat on the shelf unused.
They would not rise as quickly as moist snuff or chew, but would rise well before the expiration date indicated on the can. I didn't tolerate this from American snus manufacturers. I was not going to simply close my eyes because GN Tobacco products are manufacturered in Sweden.
Gevorg Nalbandyan, an officer of both Gajane and GN Tobacco, contacted me earlier this year and asked me what data I needed to become comfortable with Olde Viking's heat pasteurization method. I replied that lab tests on the TSNA levels in a can just off the line and a can 4-6 months old would certainly be helpful.
He agreed. Lennart Melander, GNT's Vice President of Operations provided me with the lab reports over a period of months. The first I received in May and the latter just recently. Both tests were performed by Eurofins Scientific, the lab of choice for Swedish snus manufacturers. The first test on product just off the line came in at around 0.50 ppm which is excellent but not unexpected. The next report on the older product was more interesting. There were variables missing in the lab report but included in the email it was attached to. Assuming the variables in the email from Lennart were what EuroFins used when conducting the test, the TSNA levels were below 0.60 ppm, which is more than acceptable and a pleasant surprise.
Mr. Nalbandyan and I spoke again afterwards. He offered to have GN Tobacco send me fresh cans of Olde Viking and Oden's 69 which I could keep for a year and then have tested at the laboratory of my choice at GNT's expense. I agreed. In fact, I am going to hold a few products from other manufacturers, Scandinavian and US-made, and send them all in for testing at the same time. Those results are going to very interesting indeed.
What's the big deal so long as they are less harmful than cigarettes?
There are some on the scientific side in both Sweden and the US who don't approve of my fixation on nitrosamines/TSNA's. Brad Rodu, Professor of Medicine and holder of an endowed chair in tobacco harm reduction at the University of Louisville, is a trail-breaking proponent for snus and reduced harm tobacco products and has been for over 15 years. Brad and I have had some long and sometimes strident conversations in the past concerning what constitutes reduced harm tobacco products. Obviously, any tobacco product not burned and inhaled is less harmful than cigarettes. Of all of these, Swedish style snus is the least harmful; up to 99% less harmful to a smoker than using cigarettes. Part of the reason for this is steam pasteurization and low nitrosamine levels throughout the products life.
Is American moist snuff/dip and chewing tobacco less harmful than cigarettes? Particularly when it comes to lung cancer, yes. But because they are fermented instead of pasteurized, have significant amounts of sugar, and the tobacco is fire or heat cured, they can cause mouth cancer and tooth loss. TSNA levels in moist snuff can range from 12 ppm to 128 ppm; most are around 35-64 ppm. Swedish snus, conversely, has TSNA levels below 3 ppm. Many Swedish snuses have nitrosamine levels below 1.0 ppm; V2 Tobacco, Gotlandssnus, and yes, GN Tobacco all boast levels between 0.5 ppm and 0.7.
My point of contention with Dr. Rodu and others is simply this: if Swedish snus delivers the taste and free nicotine levels smokers crave with a harm level the same or less than drinking french roast coffee or eating hot dogs, why should smokers be directed to use smokeless tobacco and other products which put them at greater risk? Camel SNUS and Marlboro snus are considered reduced harm products but are they really? Manufacturing, tobacco curing, and ingredients aside, neither contain enough bio-available nicotine to allow a smoker to quit smoking. These products are designed to be and are complementary products to cigarettes; not replacements. Use them in meetings, on planes, or in bars until you can smoke; that's the marketing spin American snus manufacturers use.
If someone is going to give up or be taxed out of using cigarettes, why not simply use the products which don't involve spitting, have virtually no risk of cancer and also contain nicotine in sufficient levels so they don't have to become dual users...or worse, fail entirely and go back to cigarettes full time? To me it makes little sense. To American tobacco companies it makes lots of sense. To FDA, if it's not a pharmaceutical product, nothing makes sense.
Odens 69 Dry White Portion Snus
The SnusCentral Snus eStore in Sweden does not carry Odens 69. Having not received any Odens 69 from GN Tobacco to try yet, I had the SnusCIA purchase a can over the internet for me.
The can itself is white plastic with no catch lid. It's not a rich looking plastic; it may have looked nicer in black but white was not complementary. The top label was off-center but that didn't matter too much since it was substantially covered by an even more off-center FDA mandated warning label. I tried to scratch it off so I could get to the rest of the logo graphics but I ended up just ruining the top.
The seal around the can was the tightest I've ever seen. I could not break it with my nails; I had to use a pocket knife. While the tight seal is great for freshness, if I was out and about without a pocket knife, it would be pretty inconvenient to open a new can.
I had no idea what Odens 69 was going to taste like. GNT had never made a white portion before; especially a dry white portion. Other than Swedish Match with the Catch Dry mini portions...and PMUSA with Marlboro Snus, dry portions are pretty rare in the snus world.
The only traditionally flavored snus I had tried from GN Tobacco was the Olde Viking Original. It wasn't bad but it wasn't great either. I could use Olde Viking Original if I had to, but if I didn't, I wouldn't. In that price range there are just too many great snuses to settle for the Olde Viking. With that as my only reference point, I opened the can of Odens 69.
The aroma started out as a dry faint slightly sweet tobacco. There was something else about the aroma on the tail end that was....unpleasant..we'll leave it there for now. The portions appeared to be roughly around a gram in weight. The DEA had confiscated my digital scale on the alleged orders of Mike Myers of CTFK so I couldn't be sure. There were 19 portions in the can so I assume 20 is the norm. Missing or in the case of Swedish Match, extra portions, are not unknown so I didn't hold the missing portion against GNT.
The mouth feel was fine with no burn; probably because the moisture and pH level were so low. This did not bode well for the nicotine hit I could expect. Once the portion finally absorbed enough saliva to juice up, there was that unpleasant, yet faintly familiar taste. I couldn't place it beyond vegetative; then decayed vegetative. I few seconds later it hit me what the taste was. I couldn't believe it. I didn't want to believe it. Something must be wrong with my tastebuds or this particular can. I checked the expiration date; 30 Jan 2011. Age was not the problem.
I called around until I came up with a couple of associates who had tried Odens 69. I told them what I was smelling and tasting. To my relief (for my tastebuds) and dismay (for the purposes of this article), they had experienced the same thing.
There is no easy way to put this. The tail end of the aroma and the taste once it started running reminded me of vomit. Ouch. I don't think I have ever used that word in describing a snus before... and I've tasted two year old expired Grand Prix Snus which was ironically made by Snus AB at the now GN Tobacco factory. Grand Prix made me sick after I used it; not as I used it. According to my tastebuds, Odens 69 Dry White Portion is the absolute worst snus I've ever had. Lock me in a room with Odens 69 and anything made by Reynolds or Philip Morris and I would cry my way through the Camel SNUS and Marlboro Snus. I had to brush my teeth twice to get rid of the taste. I was and still am stunned. I'm also saddened. Like all snusers, I cheer with anticipation the arrival of any new Swedish snus. I wasn't cheering that day.
Tough Love and Unsolicited Advice to Gajane and GN Tobacco
The product descriptions for the Olde Viking product at the SnusCentral.com Snus eStore were changed after I received the first Eurofins lab report from the original "we carry this but use at your own risk" to warnings about shelf life. After reviewing the second report and considering a handful of 3rd tier Swedish snus products some people actually sell, the product descriptions will be changed again to completely neutral.
SnusCentral carries products that I don't personally care for but others do. That variety is the joy of Swedish snus. There is literally something for everyone. Consumers tastes are not dictated by American tobacco companies into 3 or 4 choices. In the case of Swedish snus, they are not dictated by even me. Swedish snus is reduced harm tobacco democracy in action.
At this point, I'd advise GNT and Gajane management to step back and reevaluate. Snus AB failed because their products never caught on with snus users in Sweden. Their desperate final hope of Liggett Vector bailing them out with huge and ongoing Grand Prix snus orders was not based in reality. Yes, Grand Prix was made to a different recipe than other Snus AB brands. That doesn't matter; KICKS and the other Snus AB products failed on their own.
Geng Chang is the Snus Master for you at GN Tobacco. He was also the Snus Master for Snus AB. Apart from a little time in the US with Tom O'Connell, nothing has changed. He is designing and manufacturing Olde Viking snus the same way he did when at Snus AB. He is using the same factory, essentially the same equipment, and the same methodology he used at Snus AB. I'm also sure he feels the recipes and the snus products he is making taste great and are very marketable. They are not. Negative reviews and product descriptions are not hurting Olde Viking sales; the lack of products worthy of good reviews and favorable recommendations is.
In the case of Olde Viking, you could pull it off the general market, land some big private label contracts, and pound it out for 0.60 USD a can at a profit. The Olde Viking brand name is so new you could simply change it or kill it without much of a ripple if you feel it's holding GNT back. This is not the case with Oden's Snus.
The Oden's Snus brand name is an accepted one; especially in countries where high nicotine is desired. Could you use a higher grade of tobacco and ingredients to make it even better? Sure, if it makes financial sense and that's the route you want to take in addition to bragging rights on nicotine. Either way, you are starting with the benchmark of the pre-Oden's 69 products.
Consumers purchasing Oden's 69 do so based on the comfort level they have with the original Oden's products. They have either used them and liked them or read what others who liked them wrote. What are they going to think of Oden's 69? If Oden's 69 is the first Oden's snus they use, how likely are they to try the non-GN Tobacco products? If future Oden's products are going to be produced by GNT; if you're actually considering bringing the non-GNT Oden's into GNT...you will destroy the brand. It is a brand Gajane AB spent a lot of time, effort and money building. GN Tobacco is not currently up to the challenge.
Creating GN Tobacco was a logical extension for Gajane based on pre-GNT Oden's. Gajane set the baseline for Oden's and GN Tobacco is going to have to make equal or greater quality products. If that means a new perspective and a new Snus Master, then that is the course you need to follow. We've already seen how the current approach worked for Snus AB. As goes the saying, "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
End of story
Swedish Snus Ambassador to the United States
Reporting for SnusCENTRAL.org