September 26, 2017
by Guillaume Périgois

Snus: lift the ban, but for the right reason

Snus should be legalised in order to give smokers more choices; snus shouldn’t be legalised in a push to further control and limit the options of smokers.


Snus is a form of smokeless tobacco that is hugely popular in Sweden and has been for decades.

It is so much a part of Sweden that when the country became the 15th member of the EU in 1995 it managed to negotiate an exemption from a law banning the sale of snus within the EU, and that remains the situation today.

What has changed is that a growing number of experts have started to champion snus as part of a harm reduction initiative.

Euractiv reports that:

in June 2017, (…) 18 nicotine and tobacco experts sent a letter to EU Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, in charge of the Better Regulation agenda.

According to them, the prohibition of snus is “unprincipled” and lacks “any credible scientific basis”. Rather than a ban, the experts urged the EU executive to regulate this form of smokeless tobacco no differently than other forms of smokeless tobacco that are already permitted under the EU tobacco directive.

Swedish Match, the company that sells snus, is pushing for the ban of the product to be lifted and for snus to find its way into the EU tobacco directive. An EU official answered to that saying that the Commission “has no plans to revise the Directive. A report on the application of the Directive is due by May 2021.”

I agree that snus should be legalised in the EU.

That being said, the way that Swedish Match and other snus-advocates are framing this issue is counter-productive:

“We hope that the ECJ will rule in our favour, and that this would be a starting point for the EU institutions to start discussing how to define the European Tobacco legislation in a manner that will increase the number of smokers that leave that habit behind,” Wredberg said.

For the snus company, this is especially important since the decline in smoking has stalled across Europe. “A pragmatic tobacco legislation should contain a mix between strong smoking control and tobacco harm reduction measures,” Wredberg emphasised.

Let me be clear. If you believe in choice, or the principle of harm reduction, it makes complete sense for snus to be legalised.

Adult consumers must be allowed to buy a wide range of nicotine products, some ‘safer’ than others.

Snus should be legalised in order to give smokers more choices; snus shouldn’t be legalised in a push to further control and limit the options of smokers.

In an ideal world the legalisation of snus would be accompanied by an education campaign giving consumers all the information that’s available about the health risks of snus in relation to smoking, vaping, etc.

They can then make an informed choice and if, as a result, smoking rates fall, that’s fine. That’s how market forces work.

The primary reason we should legalise snus is not because it will arguably reduce smoking rates but because consumers have a right to purchase an alternative nicotine product that evidence suggests is not risk free but is significantly ‘safer’ than smoking tobacco.

In other words, if the legalisation of snus leads to a reduction in smoking rates, fine, but it shouldn’t be the principal reason for doing it.

Forest EU supports vaping, like snus, because we believe in choice. We also embrace the concept of harm reduction.

But what’s with this idea of “increasing the number of smokers that leave that habit behind” championed by the Swedish Match spokesperson? No-one who genuinely supports choice and personal freedom should be at war with smoking.

Coercing people to give up smoking for vaping or snus simply misses the point.

Something else that’s worth mentioning is the implication that if snus is legalised millions of European smokers will switch, as happened in Sweden.

No, they won’t. Snus couldn’t be an alternative to smoking because snus consuming and smoking are two different experiences; they have nothing in common.

Snus is to Sweden what chewing tobacco is to America. There will be a niche market for it in Europe (in sports, for example, or because it enables people to take nicotine in warmth and comfort inside where smoking is prohibited because of extreme laws) but don’t expect a snus-surge.

Your view:  What do you make of snus and the arguments used by the snus and anti-snus advocates? Let me know on Twitter or at gp@forestonline.eu

Featured image: “Snus by Lisa Risager is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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About Forest EU

Since 1979, Forest has been the leading voice in defending the rights of tobacco consumers and tolerant non-smokers. As an advocacy campaign, Forest EU informs consumers about issues that affect them in the European Union and engages with stakeholders so the views of informed adults are taken into account within the EU’s decision-making process. Forest EU doesn’t encourage smoking, accepts there are serious health risks associated with smoking tobacco and represents the consumer, not the tobacco industry. For more information, visit http://forestonline.eu/.

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