As public-health agencies warn that smoking may worsen the impact of COVID-19, big tobacco is turning to new oral tobacco products as the solution.

“The oral pouch seems to be the first oral tobacco product that is taken seriously as an alternative to cigarettes,” says Chris Bunka, chief executive officer of Lexaria Bioscience Corp., a Canadian biotech that’s working on ways to increase the speed at which nicotine reaches the brain.

These new smokeless products have come a long way. In 2020 global retail sales of the moist snuffs are estimated to reach $12.7 billion, up 4.8% from 2019, according to Euromonitor International—even though snus isn’t sold in most of the European Union. There’s about $1 billion in annual sales for chewing tobacco. Vaping products are expected to log $22.6 billion in sales this year.

The new products don’t require spitting because tobacco or other solids are enclosed inside single-serving pouches that are lodged between the gums and lips, sucked on discreetly, and easily discarded like chewing gum, making them more appealing to young or female consumers who’ve been averse to traditional snuff products. Some of the flavors are citrus, berry, mint, and cinnamon. And there’s a cool factor: Many brands hail from Nordic countries—in particular Sweden, whose 200-year-old tradition of moist snuff gave rise to the term “snus.”

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