Five arguments for common sense tobacco policy

There are a host of good reasons why we need a credible and common sense tobacco policy, ranging from the health of the individual to the government’s finances. Below are five arguments for a rational, common sense tobacco policy.

1) A rational tobacco policy should focus primarily on public health

If we don’t adopt a well-thought-out approach, we risk increasing the cost to society of poor public health. Today neither taxation nor regulation are based on a public health approach. We need to increase understanding of harm reduction among those setting tobacco policy.  

A step in the right direction would be a greater acceptance of Swedish snus, which has historically played, and still plays today, a crucial role in keeping the proportion of smokers down among the Swedish population and as a result reducing the incidence of deadly diseases such as lung cancer.

The development we have seen in the last eight years in Sweden, with significantly larger tax increases on snus than on cigarettes, is incomprehensible from a public health perspective.

2) Freedom to choose

Snus is a popular tobacco habit with a 200-year-old tradition that does not affect other people in any way. 

Unless you’re an extremist, the question of the right to make your own choices in life should be central to how you view the regulation and taxation of tobacco in general and snus in particular. 

Should alcohol be allowed? Should tobacco be allowed? Most people would answer ‘yes’ to both questions, but would at the same time be ready to accept a number of restrictions on price and availability. 

The sort of restrictions they might consider might be whether there should be a smoking ban in the workplace, or whether there should be a tobacco ban that also includes snus.

3) Jobs and export earnings

Today, Swedish Match is one of the largest private employers in western Sweden and Swedish snus exports to the USA are a success story.  Another manufacturer, Skruf, won the Superföretag award in 2014. On the island of Gotland, Gotlandssnus offers jobs and could also grow if the market were larger. 

Our largest and closest market, the EU, is closed to snus and the only reason why more Europeans do not get the chance to use it to give up smoking is the incomprehensible decision to impose an export ban on snus in the year Sweden joined the EU.

Lifting this ban within the EU would mean more jobs and higher tax revenues in Sweden at the same time as making a less harmful tobacco product available to millions of smokers in Europe. 

An export ban on smoking cessation products would seem absurd, but this is not an unreasonable parallel, given that studies have clearly shown that more people in Sweden have stayed smoke-free using snus than using nicotine patches or gum. 

4) Common sense regulation of tobacco sales in Sweden

The right regulations can reduce the sale of tobacco to minors, counteract smuggling, and prevent the import of snus-like products that do not comply with Swedish food legislation. 

There is a marked tendency to treat all tobacco products the same. But there are some bright spots on the horizon. Recently, the Competition Court ruled that snus should be handled differently from other tobacco products, and that is quite reasonable considering that cigarettes are tobacco products, while snus has been regulated as a foodstuff in Sweden since 1971. 

“In the assessment of whether, for example, a trader has observed the required restraint, a distinction must be made between tobacco products of different kinds in order to meet the requirement of proportionality,” the court said in its ruling.

“This means, among other things, that there are grounds for assessing the marketing of snus in a way that is different from the marketing of tobacco products that have a greater impact on public health, such as cigarettes.”

5) Tax products’ harm, not the nicotine content

In the coming years, there will be a need to review how tobacco is taxed. The fastest growing nicotine product right now is the e-cigarette. Vaporized nicotine will be a major issue for health researchers in the future: How dangerous is it? How does it compare to normal cigarettes? How does it compare to snus? Does the possibility of using e-cigarettes lead to more people giving up smoking? 

Today, e-cigarettes are completely untaxed, just like smoking cessation products. 

Some have called for a review of all products derived from the tobacco plant, and for them to be taxed on the basis of the harmfulness of each product, while others have called for a nicotine tax. 

Whatever new tax comes in, it should be based on the health effects and established risk of these products, not only on outdated ideas about the raw material.

Snus is primarily a stimulant, and some negative health effects on users have been proven. But there is a big difference between the risk of lung cancer and the risk of your gums receding if you neglect to use your toothbrush.