The European Commission has asked a panel of experts to investigate the possible risks and benefits of "snus", a tobacco product that is banned across most EU countries.
Snus is a small pouch of tobacco that is sucked rather than chewed or smoked. The only member state where it is legal is Sweden, which negotiated an exemption from the ban because of the popularity of the product among its population.
British American Tobacco last year launched a pilot in Sweden selling branded snus, and believes it is a healthier alternative. The argument for snus is that the lack of smoke reduces the dangers normally associated with tobacco.
BAT has long been lobbying the EC to reconsider its stance on snus and chief executive Paul Adams confirmed that the panel had been set up and was due to report its findings at the end of this year. "The European Commission have asked a scientific committee to look at snus," he said. "They are looking at the science of it."
BAT, along with other tobacco groups, has already made submissions to the committee.
"Bear in mind that some pretty substantial scientific observers espouse the view that snus is far less harmful than cigarettes," he added. "Nobody is saying that snus is harmless, but it's a lot less harmful than cigarettes."
A number of public health authorities around the world are moving towards bans on tobacco use, rather than backing often controversial alternatives that are still harmful to health. In the UK, the ban on smoking in public places comes into force next year.
However, Mr Adams said the number of smokers in the world - currently at around 1 billion - was still set to grow. "In 10 years' time, there will be more smokers than there are now. So it's unrealistic to say everyone should just quit. Better to accept that this is the way the world is going to be."Reuse content