Fight to end snus ban continues despite new EU ‘no’

The ban on the sale of snus in the European Union is set to remain in place after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled against Swedish Match in what campaigners slammed as “a defeat for public health”. 

The verdict, released on the morning of 22 November, confirmed that Swedish snus would not be allowed in the EU in the future.

“Today’s verdict from the ECJ  is a miscarriage of justice for smokers in the EU who could have benefitted from the less dangerous tobacco products that have helped so many Swedes and Norwegians quit smoking,” said Sarah Jakes, president of the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA), a group that advocates harm reduction in tobacco policy.

“The fight does not end here. It is a scandal that products such as snus that have a fraction of the risk compared to smoking are banned while cigarettes are legal and are everywhere.”

‘A defeat for public health’

Christofer Fjellner, a Member of the European Parliament for Sweden’s Moderate Party, agreed that the ruling was a blow to public health in the EU.

“The verdict is a defeat for public health and for those of us who want Europe’s smokers to have access to a less harmful alternative to cigarettes,” he wrote in an opinion piece published in Sweden’s Expressen newspaper.

According to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, “no circumstance has emerged that could affect the validity of Articles 1c and 17” of the EU 2014 Tobacco Directive.

The ruling did not come as a surprise to Swedish Match, as the EU Advocate General announced as early as 12 April that the snus ban was “valid”. 

As the decision cannot be appealed, the verdict brings an end to Swedish Match’s attempt to challenge the ban through the courts, meaning that “any future lifting of the snus ban is essentially a political issue”, the company said in a statement.

“Now politics must begin to take responsibility,” said Patrik Strömer, Secretary General of the Association of Swedish Snus Manufacturers. 

Harm reduction movement growing

The ruling stems from a case Swedish Match launched in the UK, in which it argued that the EU’s 2014 Tobacco Directive discriminated against against snus and did not take into account the latest research on the subject. 

The British court forwarded the question of the ban to the ECJ, which has now had its say.

Despite the announcement, there is a growing movement to remove the ban on snus, both within and outside Sweden, with advocates arguing the ban is both needlessly limits freedom of choice and has a negative effect on public health within the EU. 

In 2017, the campaign group EUfor Snus was founded, quickly growing to 4,000 members in 100 countries around the world.

EUfor Snus co-founder Bengt Wiberg called the ruling “an act of ruthless negligence”.

“More than 8 out of 10 snus users are former smokers. I’m one of them myself. How many more of Europe’s 100 million smokers would also quit if they could switch to snus legally?” he asked.