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Health warning headache for Sweden’s new nicotine regulations

While implementing Sweden’s new regulations for nicotine products has been a breeze for retailers, a lack of detail in new guidelines from the public health agency has created uncertainty for manufacturers.

The new law, which was approved by Sweden’s parliament in June and came into force on August 1st, had been watched closely as early drafts contained a proposed ban on flavoured e-cigarettes. While the flavour ban was dropped, the new rules include a number of tougher restrictions on the marketing and sales of tobacco-free nicotine products.

Among other things, the new rules formalize marketing restrictions, age limits, and warning labels on tobacco and nicotine products that had long been sought by snus manufacturers.

“For years, the industry has urged the Swedish government to update tobacco legislation and regulate tobacco-free nicotine pouches,” says Patrik Strömer, Secretary General of the Association of Swedish Snus Manufacturers.

“The new law is symbolically important and hopefully a first step in demonstrating that Sweden recognizes the health benefits of smoke-free nicotine products.”.

No major changes with the new law

The industry has had its own regulatory framework in place since 2019 when the National Food Administration declared that tobacco-free nicotine products do not constitute a food product according to the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) definition. 

As the new law is so similar to the industry’s regulatory framework, Strömer doesn’t expect any major changes when implementing the new rules.

Business as usual for retailers

Strömer’s view is reflected by accounts from several shop owners interviewed by Swedish media in connection with the new law coming into force.  Operations as largely unaffected by the changes, they report, aside from a requirement to submit an application for renewed permission from the local authorities to continue selling nicotine pouches.

“We’ve had an 18-year age limit since the nicotine pouches first arrived. If we’re not sure, we ask for identification. Customers are used to showing their ID if they’re under 25,” Fredrik Bondesson from a Pressbyrån shop in Eskilstuna in central Sweden told Swedish broadcaster SVT.

Nor has Kicki Danielsson, who works in a tobacco shop in Kalmar in southern Sweden, noticed any difference.

“The new law doesn’t affect us that much. We only needed to remove certain advertising that didn’t fit with the new law and submit our permit application to the municipality”, she told SVT.

Health warning uncertainty

But a degree of uncertainty about the new rules emerged when the Public Health Agency presented new guidelines about health warnings.

Among other things, tobacco-free nicotine products “may not be provided on the Swedish market if they do not meet certain product requirements. The requirements apply to content and design, product presentation, the listing of ingredients, and health warnings”.

But details regarding ingredient listings and design requirements won’t be known until the agency’s guidelines take effect on January 1st, 2023. And other questions about what the industry must do to comply remain unanswered, leaving snus manufacturers unsure of what else may be required.

“It’s not immediately clear what applies. The industry has its own health warnings, but it’s unclear whether they will also be approved in the future or whether the agency wants special wording,” he tells Snusforumet.